Abuses of temps chargedLeaders of the three largest...

Newswatch ... on federal workers

December 18, 1991|By Penny Bender | By Penny Bender,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Abuses of temps charged

Leaders of the three largest federal workers' unions have accused the federal government of hiring thousands of temporary workers to avoid the expense of hiring full-time employees.

"There is simply no reasonable justification to deny long-term temporary employees a compensation package equivalent in value to that of permanent federal employees," said Roy E. Pannell, a national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Representatives of the AFGE, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union testified about the abuses of temporary placement Friday before a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee.

The federal work force has 3.1 million permanent workers and more than 270,000 temporary employees who are hired for appointments of up to four years, according to the unions.

Union representatives said temporary workers hold a variety of positions -- from forester in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky to firefighter for the VA hospital in Brecksville, Ohio. While many of these workers have held their jobs for many years, they have no job security, do not get full health insurance benefits, cannot participate in life insurance or retirement programs and do not have a right to appeal layoffs, union leaders said.

Pannell estimated that the government saves more than $10,000 in benefits for every temporary worker it hires. "It is therefore clear to us that agencies are increasing the use of temporary employees simply because it is a way to save money," he said.

Robert M. Tobias, president of the treasury employees' union, noted that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. offers full pension benefits to managers after 20 years of permanent service, yet temporary employees who have worked continuously for the FDIC don't qualify.

"It is obscene to be providing such overly generous benefits to highly paid managers when rank-and-file workers are putting in years and years of service with absolutely no pension benefits," Tobias said.

The national federation of federal workers reported that a majority of temporary workers are black and female. Black men are four times more likely to be temporary workers than white men.

Two out of every three temporary workers are women, according to the union.

The subcommittee will take the union leaders' concerns under consideration, said a staff aide. Legislation on the use of temporary workers is being drafted and will be introduced early next session, the aide said. Details on the legislation were not yet available.

Drug testing:

The Supreme Court's refusal to consider the issue of testing federal job applicants for drugs is not likely to spur a change in policy by the government, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The court on Monday refused to take up the case of Carl Willner, a Justice Department lawyer who refused to take a drug test when he applied for his job in the antitrust division.

The court let stand a lower court's ruling against Willner. The appeals court reasoned that because Willner had applied for a job of trust, the Justice Department could require him to take a drug test.

Despite the fear of some federal workers that the Supreme Court is sending out a dangerous signal, the decision "doesn't change anything. It has no particular effect on anybody," said Arthur Spitzer, the legal director for the ACLU in Washington and one of Willner's attorneys.

Sue Holliday, spokesman for the National Treasury Employees Union, said members are still concerned. "This opens the door to a wider degree of drug testing," she said.

Drug testing is required for federal jobs that involve public safety and trust, but the Supreme Court's reluctance to take up Willner's case could influence other agencies to order drug tests for all applicants, she said.

That isn't likely to happen, Spitzer countered. Federal agencies "have all been free to do that for five years. My guess is that this is not going to cause any agencies to implement [more] drug testing."

Currently, 36 of the government's 52 largest agencies require applicants who aren't already government workers to take drug tests, said Judy Galloway, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services. Eleven more have applicant-testing regulations that have not yet been put into place, she said.

Forty-eight agencies require random drug tests of current employees or have plans to do so, Galloway said.

No government agencies have postponed implementation of their testing plans because of the Willner case, she said. She said she was not aware of any other lawsuits that would hinder the government's drug testing program, either. "I don't think there are any minefields out there, nothing we're holding our breath about."

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