Better blue-collar pay?Motivated by recent improvements in...

Newswatch. . . on federal workers

April 03, 1991|By Stacey Evers | Stacey Evers,States News Service

Better blue-collar pay?

Motivated by recent improvements in the white-collar pay structure for federal workers, a committee of government labor and management has recommended that the Office of Personnel Management reform the pay system for federal blue-collar workers.

The 11-member Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee agreed Thursday that the gap between private and public sector salaries must be closed, but did not come to terms on how to do that.

The decision will rest with OPM Director Constance B. Newman, who is expected to receive the recommendation next week.

If Newman likes what she sees enough to seek congressional action, the end result could be greater pay for the 4,500 Federal Wage System (FWS) employees in the Baltimore area.

Under the current prevailing rate system, federal workers are supposed to receive the equivalent of private sector pay when they are promoted to step 2 in the five-step wage scale.

At step 3, worker pay is to be 4 percent more than the private

sector average. At step 4, 8 percent more and at step 5, which is reached after six years of service, 12 percent more. The reason for the greater public sector pay, officials say, is to recruit and retain experienced workers.

Nationally, however, step 2 pay averages about 10 percent less than private sector salaries, committee members said. Private sector salaries generally aren't being matched until step 4, they said.

In the Baltimore area, step 2 FWS employees are paid an average of 5.1 percent less than their peers in the private sector, committee chairman Tony Ingrassia said. In the Hagerstown area, which has about 3,100 federal trade workers, the pay lag at step 2 is about 6.14 percent.

In January, white- and blue-collar workers received 4.1 percent pay raises regardless of how they matched up with private salaries, Ingrassia said.

Union and management officials disagree about how to rectify the system.

"The union members feel pay caps should not be imposed and the existing system of prevailing rates be permitted to function as intended," Ingrassia said. "Management members feel any move to address the pay lag also should address overall reform of the system."

Barbara Fiss, OPM's assistant director for pay and performance, said it wouldn't be fair to immediately eliminate pay caps for blue-collar workers when the wage reforms for white collar workers are being phased in over a nine-year period starting in 1994.

The average pay for white collar workers is 30 percent less than that for comparable jobs in the private sector, Ingrassia said.

"We are obviously concerned about equity between the two systems," Fiss said. "We feel you can't just simply lift the pay cap for the blue collar. You must consider the policies in place for white collar."

So, instead of making any recommendations, the committee decided to ask Newman to "pursue fair and equitable procedures for restoring prevailing rates for FWS employees to enhance recruitment and retention of qualified employees," according to a committee statement.

Not surprisingly, the five union representatives of the panel, which has discussed the issue for about 10 months, favored the measure and the five management representatives rejected it. Ingrassia cast the deciding vote.

Congress' decision last fall to restore pay comparability for the federal government's 1.5 million white-collar employees catalyzed the committee's action.

Tighter security:

The National Treasury Employees Union is asking its local chapter presidents to tighten security after a pipe bomb exploded Sunday afternoon outside the union's headquarters in Fresno, Calif.

The 3,200-member local, NTEU's largest chapter, is across the street from an IRS center, which was the target of another bomb explosion Monday afternoon.

Sunday's explosion ruptured natural gas lines, ignited a fire and showered the neighborhood with debris, but caused no injuries.

The bomb didn't damage the interior of NTEU's brick building, but ripped out some bushes and created a one-foot diameter hole in the exterior of the building, local President James Dorman said. "It was a flop in terms of causing any real damage to us," he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, Dorman said.

The union's Washington office sent a memo to chapter presidents Monday, asking them to be careful and tighten security, union spokeswoman Susan Holliday said. But, she said, "There's not a whole lot you can do" to protect against such attacks.

She's a winner:

Dr. Angela Moran, a materials engineer at the Navy's David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis, has won the 1991 Women in Science and Engineering Award for Engineering Achievement.

An employee at the lab since 1983, Moran was recognized for her work in spray forming technology, a relatively new technique that directly converts liquid metals into pre-formed shapes.

The technology has boosted submarine parts production by cutting cost and production time while improving quality.

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