Honoraria and the courtsVarious unions representing...

Newswatch... on federal workers

March 20, 1991|By Stacey Evers | Stacey Evers,States News Service

Honoraria and the courts

Various unions representing federal workers want the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to decide the constitutionality of a law banning federal employees from accepting payment for their articles and speeches.

Having exhausted efforts to get an injunction against the law, the unions now want the District Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected arguments from the unions, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees. The unions wanted the appeals court to overturn a decision by the U.S. District Court, which refused to stop enforcement of the honoraria law.

The law, part of the Ethics in Government Act of 1989, went into effect Jan. 1.

The three-judge appeals panel said employees who free-lance can put their payments in escrow until the lawsuit is decided.

But AFGE President John N. Sturdivant said putting the money in escrow won't pay today's bills.

Sturdivant said there is "no rational reason" to include federal workers in an honoraria ban that was intended to strengthen the federal ethics law for congressmen, presidential appointees and other high-ranking government officials -- not rank-and-file employees who receive an average annual salary of $32,000.

NTEU President Robert M. Tobias said the appeals panel's words were "encouraging" and called the decision "just a temporary setback, albeit one that maintains an unfair status quo that muzzles federal workers and prevents them from speaking out and earning extra money on their own time."

The unions also have pledged to bolster their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill to correct "an injustice which should never have occurred," Sturdivant said.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee recently passed a bill to correct the ethics act. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations approved a bill Feb. 27 that would allow government workers at a GS-15 level or lower to accept honoraria.

The full committee isn't expected to review the bill until April, after Congress' spring recess, a committee staff member said.

Workers get low marks:

Senior federal executives say the quality of federal employees has decreased in the last decade, according to a survey by the Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association.

Polling 1,140 current and former government workers, 52.5 percent criticized their colleagues for a diminished commitment

to public service; 51.4 percent said they noticed decreased writing ability and 45.1 percent complained that employees don't want to work hard.

Employees' analytical ability, interpersonal skills, oral communications ability and technical field knowledge also got low marks.

In addition, the executives reported a drop in morale in their agencies. The morale indicator, based on a seven-point scale, declined from 3.89 in 1989 to 3.32 in 1990.

The declines in morale and quality are "not surprising given the deliberations over pay increases, the threat of furlough and the overall lack of recognition accorded to federal employees," said FEIAA President Allan Kam.

Just for kids:

Social Security Administration workers in Baltimore concerned about day care can check out SSA's first on-site child-care center, the Social Secur-A-Kiddie Center.

The facility, dedicated Monday, is open this week for tours by the 4,000 Metro West employees. Opening April 1, the day-care center will enroll 93 children: 24 infants at least 4 months old, 24 2-year-olds and 45 3- to 5-year-olds.

The fee for infants is $100 a week; for 2-year-olds, $90 a week and for 3- to 5-year-olds, $75 a week. The fee includes a hot breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack.

A limited amount of tuition assistance is available. For more information, employees may call 965-4399.

The child-care center, on the first floor of the South Building, will be open Monday through Friday from 6:15 a.m. until 6:15 p.m. It will be closed on federal holidays.

Another on-site center is to open in the fall at at SSA's main complex in Woodlawn.

The centers will be operated by SSA's Employees Activities Association. Paula Ciferni will serve as executive director of the centers. Ciferni's background in child care includes work in child-care licensing and child-care education in Anne Arundel County.

"Our nation is engaged in an ongoing debate about the breakdown of the family all around us and its tragic consequences," SSA director Gwendolyn King said at the dedication ceremony. "If we really do believe that we must do something to stop this breakdown, to hold our families together, then our policies and actions should reflect this."

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