WASHINGTON — Mikulski attacks pay disparities
Although recognizing her colleagues' excellent work in setting funding priorities during a time of fiscal constraints, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland nevertheless reminded the Senate of the continuing need to resolve the pay disparities between federal workers and private-sector employees in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Mikulski pointed to an April report from the General Accounting Office that showed that federal employees in the Washington area earned 20 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector; those in the Baltimore area earned 18.5 percent less.
"But while federal employees earn less here on average than their counterparts in the private sector, they don't pay less for housing, groceries, tuition or medical care," said Mikulski. "Instead, they just dig a little deeper and squeeze a little harder."
Mikulski, a Democrat, also reminded her fellow members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the treasury, postal service and general government about the importance of federal workers to the work of the Congress.
"They do research on life-threatening diseases. They make sure Social Security checks get out on time. They give us advance warning during natural disasters," she said. "And during Operation Desert Storm, they made sure our troops had the bullets and bandages they needed to get the job done."
"These are the craftspeople and tradespeople who work for the federal government," she said. "Sometimes they're called 'blue-collar employees.' They're necessary to the functioning of the government; we can't do without them."
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a request for $1 million to expand the federal government's role in determining health and safety threats in government buildings.
The money would go to the Health Hazard Evaluation program sponsored by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The committee also approved a request by Mikulski to have the Social Security Administration's Security West Building outside Baltimore checked for health hazards. There have been repeated reports of employees working at the building suffering from headaches, eye irritations and respiratory conditions, she said.
"I'm concerned by the increasing number of reports we're getting about workers developing respiratory and other health problems that may be related to sick-building syndrome," said ,, Mikulski, who helped push through the $1 million request.
"It makes sense to find out now if there are problems with the building and fix them because an unhealthy building causes hardships on workers and their families, increases health-care costs and absenteeism."
Legislation that would remove the Social Security Administration's administrative funds from the federal budget -- thus protecting them from being used to balance the federal budget -- has earned the praise of a federal union representing 60,000 SSA employees nationwide.
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill would protect SSA employees from the kind of furlough threats that could have shut down the agency during last fall's budget deadlock.
"Today's workers have a right to expect that Social Security trust funds will be there to pay benefits when they retire, or if they die or become disabled," said Rostenkowski, D-Ill. "Similarly, they have a right to expect that those benefits will be both timely and accurate."
Added Rostenkowski, "The 20 percent cut in staff and resources at the Social Security Administration over the last six years has dramatically reduced the ability of the agency to provide such benefits, and has reduced the confidence of the American people in the integrity of the Social Security system."
John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, "This language should make it clear once and for all that the Office of Budget and Management will have to keep their hands off the SSA administrative funds needed to properly serve SSA claimants and beneficiaries."
Pointing to Clarence Thomas' record as head of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the 1.3 million-member union representing the nation's public employees has called for rejection of his nomination to the Supreme Court.
In a letter to Sen. Joseph R. Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said that "Judge Thomas lacks the judicial experience necessary to give fair and broad interpretation to the Constitution," after serving on a federal appellate court for about 15 months.
Union officials said they were "extremely troubled" by Thomas' record as EEOC chairman.
"From the beginning of his appointment, Judge Thomas demonstrated a lack of respect for the very laws and legal doctrines which his agency was charged with enforcing," said the letter, co-signed by the union's president, Gerald W. McEntee, and the secretary-treasurer, William Lucy.