WASHINGTON TIME AND A HALF: — Most federal workers cannot be political
WASHINGTON -- As the action accelerates this political campaign season, most federal employees are consigned to the sidelines as spectators.
Prohibited from actively participating in partisan politics by the Hatch Act of 1939, Labor Department worker Linda Copening said she feels like a "second-class citizen."
Ms. Copening would have been interested in serving as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in New York, but she is legally barred from doing so.
On the other hand, other federal employees do not share Ms. Copening's desire to be involved. Instead, the law affords them a convenient excuse to remain inactive.
Christopher Griffin, legislative aide to Maryland Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, said, "a lot of federal employees called and told us they like being Hatched" when Ms. Bentley supported efforts to change the act.
Ms. Bentley supported change proposals in 1991, despite reservations. Mr. Griffin said she felt the proposals reflected strong feelings of union members in her district.
He said she was concerned some politicians could put job-related pressure on federal employees to support their candidacy.
The bill was vetoed by President Bush, and the Senate failed by two votes to override.
With 1992 being an election year, the measure is unlikely to come to a vote again this session. Supporters of change, mostly Democrats, hope to try again in 1993.
Department of Housing and Urban Development employee Barbara Davidson would like to campaign for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. But, Ms. Davidson said, the Hatch Act "disenfranchises" federal workers. She believes it affects "the weight you carry when you walk into [a lawmaker's] office."
"We come in there like beggars," she said. "We can't say 'I've supported you. Can you support me?' "
For hundreds of Baltimore Social Security Administration (SSA) employees, last week's paycheck included up to $6 more per overtime hour.
The extra pay was the result of an arbitrator's ruling in April that claims authorizers at SSA headquarters and claims representatives at field offices nationwide should receive full time-and-a-half overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Since 1975, SSA employees at a certain pay level have had their overtime earnings capped.
The settlement affects 500 to 700 workers in Baltimore, and could affect nearly 7,000 if extended to all eligible positions, said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees chapter at SSA.
Annual salaries for those who received the higher pay last week range from $30,000 to $38,400 and their overtime pay varies from 70 cents to $6.40 an hour.
Retroactive payments for overtime earnings as far back as 1982 are being negotiated.
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton won virtual unanimous support from federal unions when he selected Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, a favorite of labor's, as his running mate.
Thus, union officials were willing to look past Mr. Clinton's recent announcement that he would like to cut the federal work force by 100,000 over eight years and support the Democratic nominee.
"He has cleared up those things," said Andreas "Red" Evans, spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). "He was talking about [cuts] through attrition and overtime."
NFFE historically has not endorsed presidential candidates but Mr. Evans said there was no doubt the Clinton-Gore ticket is the union's unofficial choice.
The AFL-CIO will announce its endorsement after the presidents of its 88 affiliated unions meet and vote on Sept. 3. AFL-CIO spokeswoman Candice Johnson said chances were "very good" that Mr. Clinton would receive the nod.
Mr. Gore has had an 87 percent AFL-CIO approval rating in the Senate but Ms. Johnson said his selection "doesn't affect [the endorsement] one way or another."
National Treasury Employees' Union President Bob Tobias said his union would not endorse a candidate until mid-September because it was focusing on voter registration until then.
American Federation of Government Employees President John Sturdivant, who is at the convention, said Mr. Gore improves the ticket.