Help urged for job-loss victims

Newswatch ... on federal workers

November 13, 1991|By Nicole Weisensee | Nicole Weisensee,States News Service

While closing military bases is essential, present programs must be expanded to help federal employees who will lose their jobs because of it, the vice president of a top federal employees union told a House subcommittee last week.

Department of Defense employees who lose their jobs because of base closures and cuts in the DOD budget must be afforded the rights, protections and opportunities to find new positions as quickly as possible, according to David Schlein, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

There are four ways the federal government can achieve this goal, Schlein told the House Post Office and Civil Service Subcommittee.

They include: maintaining current programs that offer relocation assistance, providing severance pay and other allowances, implementing enhanced early retirement and using the DOD Priority Placement Program (PPP) as downsizing goes into effect.

Noting that PPP has placed over 100,000 employees since 1965, Schlein stressed that the upcoming base closures will present a "challenge in magnitude and complexity that will require the program to place the same number of DOD employees over the next six years as have been placed over the last 27 years."

Schlein told committee members that a Placement and Training Center should be established at every DOD installation that is closing or undergoing substantive reduction in personnel.

"AFGE views these placement centers as vital to the downsizing effort," Schlein said.

Schlein also expressed the union's support for a bill sponsored by Reps. Barbara Boxer and Vic Fazio, both California Democrats. The bill would allow federal employees who are at or near retirement age to add four years of credit to their ages or years of service, or a combination of both, so they would be encouraged to retire early.

"This bill would soften the blow for older employees and at the same time, save severance pay and relocation costs while preserving jobs for younger, lower-salaried employees," Schlein said.

Hazards on the job:

The Senate has approved $1 million for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health's Health Hazard Evaluation Program to investigate health and safety threats in federal buildings.

"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," says Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

"It makes sense to find out now if there are problems with the building and fix them because an unhealthy building causes hardship on workers and their families, increased health care costs and absenteeism," she said.

The funding was part of the fiscal year 1992 appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and related agencies.

'Hardship' for retirees:

A federal law that reduces by two-thirds the Social Security benefit due federal retirees "represents a cruel hardship that forces many federal retirees below the poverty level," the leader of a federal employees union told a House subcommittee recently.

"We are inflicting suffering on some of our most vulnerable citizens based only on the fact that they chose careers in public service," said Robert M. Tobias, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

"In nearly 90 percent of these cases, the Social Security spousal benefit for federal retirees is totally wiped out by the offset," Tobias told a subcommittee of the House Select Committee on Aging.

The pension offset nearly halved the monthly income of NTEU member Jean Pemberton, a 65-year-old divorced IRS retiree who is the sole care giver for her 86-year-old disabled mother.

She lost $342 each month to the offset, leaving her with a $123 monthly Social Security check plus a monthly pension of $396 from her 19 years as a GS-5 secretary.

"There are possibly thousands of Jean Pembertons whose lives are devastated by this offset," Tobias said, recounting the "outpouring of concern and anger" from his union's members over its impact.

Right to copyright:

A House subcommittee recently approved by voice vote legislation that gives federal employees the right to copyright computer software.

It would also extend royalties to federal employees who write software programs. Supporters argued that, because federal employees currently do not have the authority to copyright their work, they are discouraged from developing software.

The House Science Subcommittee on Technology and Competitiveness approved the bill and a substitute amendment that narrowed its scope.

The definition of computer software was changed to ensure that private entrepreneurs could write and sell manuals on how to use the programs. It excluded government data, databases and database retrieval systems from copyright protections.

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