WASHINGTON — Marching for a safe workplace
WASHINGTON -- More than 200 federal workers are set to rally here tomorrow to demand "a workplace free from all health ** and safety hazards," according to a statement released by the National Treasury Employees Union.
Federal workers who have been the victims of workplace hazards, including exposure to asbestos and toxic chemicals and sick building syndrome, were invited to address the gathering. Union president Robert M. Tobias was also scheduled to speak.
The rally, one of the union's national Worker Action Day activities, was chosen by the union to complement Workers Memorial Day on April 28.
"Action to rid the workplace of hazards is the most fitting memorial to those who have been killed or injured on the job," Tobias said in a statement announcing the rally.
Handling holiday paydays:
Rep. Bernard J. Dwyer, D-N.J., thinks retired federal and military employees shouldn't have to spend national holiday weekends worrying about rent payments or waiting by the mailbox for their pension checks.
So Dwyer recently introduced a package of four bills designed to address that rare, but potentially troubling, problem that occurs when Monday federal holidays, which often lead to long three- or four-day weekends, coincide with the first of the month.
Although the problem occurs sporadically -- most often around New Year's Day, Fourth of July weekend, Memorial Day and Labor Day -- Dwyer's office says it can make a big difference for many federal pensioners, especially those on fixed incomes.
"When a federal holiday is declared on a Monday, mail can be backed up for four days," said Lyle Dennis, Dwyer's administrative aide. "And if you're a low-income, or even a middle-income, retiree scraping to pay rent or other bills on the first of the month, that few days' delay can mean trouble."
While Social Security checks have for years been mailed early on holidays for just this reason, pensions for retired federal and military employees, and benefits for sufferers of black lung disease and retired railroad workers, have not been assigned such priority.
So Dwyer is hoping that his bills will do the trick. The measures are the Black Lung Benefits Check Delivery Assurance Act, the Railroad Retirement Benefits Check Delivery Assurance Act, the Civil Service and Federal Employee Retirement Assurance Act -- and a proposed amendment to Armed Forces Title 10.
Besides solving the problems that could arise when the first of the month is a federal holiday, Dwyer's bills require such checks to be delivered early whenever the first of the month falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
Labor groups say they favor the legislation as long as it won't add administrative costs to an agency's budget.
But Dwyer's office won't say when the legislation would be taken up this year, if at all. "I've given up trying to predict congressional action regarding these bills," said Dennis.
He added that the structure of the Capitol Hill committee system doesn't make things easy. The four bills are subject to jurisdiction under four committees: Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Post Office and Civil Service and Armed Services.
The legislation is not currently scheduled for hearings before any of these panels.
A new union:
The professional employees working for the U.S. Labor Department recently elected the National Council of Field Labor Locals as their collective bargaining representative.
Previously represented by the National Union of Pension Investigators and Auditors, the employees of the Labor Department's Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration elected the American Federation of Government Employees' NCFLL by a 70-vote margin.
The results of the mail balloting, which went out to all 200 eligible benefits administration employees, were announced late last week.
"We were confident that our professional colleagues in PWBA would recognize the vital role in our council in protecting employee rights in the Department of Labor for the quarter-century," said NCFLL president Jesse Rios. "The 73 percent vote for AFL-CIO representation proves we were right."
These days of hiring freezes and layoffs are a matter of concern for all workers. But a bill introduced last week aimed at easing the worries of those employees approaching retirement age -- and with possibly the most to lose -- may help remove some of that doubt for government workers.
Introduced on April 16 by Rep. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Federal Employees Retirement Incentive Act is designed to encourage early, voluntary retirement of eligible federal workers. The bill would allow workers in any government agency undergoing a reduction in force, or other major reorganization, to be credited with an additional four years of service.
The earliest age at which federal workers may retire is 55 after 30 years of service; the average age of today's federal worker is 42.
The Boxer bill, which widens retirement eligibility, could make a big difference in times of agency cutbacks, allowing more senior employees to retire when they want to while preserving more jobs.
Under current Office of Personnel Management rules, which apply to agencies involved in reductions in force, employees may be allowed to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service or at any age after 25 years of service.
The Boxer bill would take effect three years after the law is passed.
Boxer's bill racked up 27 original co-sponsors, including Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th. It is an expanded version of earlier legislation, which included only employees of the Department of Defense.