Social Security in holiday tug-of-war


August 31, 1994|By Julia Angwin | Julia Angwin,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Some Baltimore federal workers' Labor Day plans may be caught in an interagency tug-of-war.

The Office of Personnel Management disagrees with some agencies -- including the Social Security Administration -- over which days certain workers can take off this holiday weekend.

The dispute revolves around workers who use "compressed time," which means they choose to toil extra-long hours nine days out of 10 in order to have an extra day of rest.

The question is: If a worker's 10th day falls on Labor Day, which other day should they have off? SSA told its employees to take the following Tuesday. But OPM says those workers should absent themselves this Friday.

"It's cut and dry, it's in the law," said OPM spokesman Mike Orenstein. "If your day off would be on Monday the 5th, your holiday day off would be Friday, September 2nd."

But SSA spokesman Tom Margenaut said the law is not so clear.

"Everybody is just assuming they'll take Tuesday off until they hear differently," he said. "We've talked to our personnel people here and they're waiting to get clarification from OPM."

Mr. Margenaut said SSA doesn't keep a count of how many workers are on the alternative work schedule, and would be affected by a jump-started vacation.

But for those who are worried about their beach plans, Mr. Orenstein concedes there are no official penalties for breaking the law.

However, he said, "It could cause payroll problems for the agencies."


Congress left town without touching on two issues that affect federal workers -- a national pay raise and health care reform.

The pay raise, which used to be considered an issue of contention, has been resolved between the House and Senate. The House plan, strongly backed by federal workers' unions, would boost salaries by 2 percent. The Senate proposes a 1 percent pay raise.

Congress watchers say the higher sum is likely to win out now that it has the backing of the Office of Management and Budget.

"That basically means it's going to be codified," said Bryon Bereano, legislative assistant at the Federal Government Service Task Force.

Congress also will consider a locality pay raise of an average of 0.6 percent across the country, which would translate into a roughly 1 percent increase for Baltimore-area workers.

Mr. Bereano said the 0.6 percent figure has been agreed to as well.

Last-minute work on the crime bill, however, prevented lawmakers from meeting to make the change. Congress is expected to return Sept. 12.

However, federal workers may be pleased with the congressional inaction on health care reform.

The view of many observers in Washington is that a major overhaul of the health care system is unlikely this year. Instead, incremental fixes for the most egregious problems are likely, political analysts say.

"We think Congress needs to re-evaluate this and make it priority No. 1 come January," said Charles Carter, president of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees.

Congress should allow citizens to buy into the federal health care plan, he said, instead of abolishing the one that works. "Why reinvent the wheel?" Mr. Carter asked.

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