Retirees will likely get biggest pay increase

FEDERAL WORKERS

July 28, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS

For the third year in a row, it's likely that most federal retirees are going to get a bigger raise than federal workers come January.

If prices for goods and services continue to rise during the next two months, retirees under the old system can expect at least a 3.1 percent cost-of-living adjustment in their pensions. Federal workers, meanwhile, can expect either a 2.2 or 2.7 percent raise - Congress has yet to finish its annual tug-of-war over pay parity among military and civilian personnel.

While there is ample attention paid to congressional bickering over federal salaries and the president's calls to keep them in check, the annual bump for retirees, which is automatic and tied to the consumer price index, infuses large sums of cash into the region's economy thanks to its high number of former feds.

"There's a core group that really pays attention to this - people who I'm convinced have graphs on their kitchen walls," said Judy Park, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "But there's always interest as we get into the final countdown of what next year's total is going to be. It does help you plan."

Retirees received larger raises than workers this year - 4.1 percent vs. 3.1 percent - and last year - 2.7 vs. 2.5 percent. The bumps are based on an economic indicator called the CPI-W, a measure of the average change in prices paid by about 32 percent of the population for goods and services.

This bump also determines the inflation adjustment in Americans' Social Security checks and is announced in October - once September's CPI-W is released.

EEOC jobs

A Senate panel has passed a spending bill that would restore jobs and money to Baltimore's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office - another shove in a bitter dispute over a recent reorganization enacted over opposition from members of Congress.

The EEOC handles claims of discrimination filed against public- and private-sector employers.

The report on the spending bill says agency leadership lacks "respect for congressional priorities" and criticizes the agency's backlog, which is expected to grow to more than 47,000 cases during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The spending bill, which has yet to clear the Senate and negotiations with the House, also staves off $4 million in Bush administration-proposed budget cuts. Since 2001, the agency has lost more than 19 percent of its staff during a hiring freeze.

In Baltimore, the office has been reduced from 82 employees in 2002 to 49 in May, according to a chart provided by the agency's union.

The reorganization plan downgraded eight of the agency's 23 district offices, including Baltimore's, to field offices.

Four more were pared down to the lowest level. The Philadelphia regional office, for instance, now covers a much larger population, including Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Andrew said.

The agency, however, defends Baltimore's downgrade, arguing that it saves the agency $300,000 a year and that the office experienced a 9 percent decrease in discrimination charges during fiscal year 2005 and a 21 percent decrease during the first half of 2006.

"The EEOC's enforcement efforts in Baltimore have not been undermined nor was Baltimore targeted," the agency said in a statement. "Baltimore continues to be a full-service office with investigators, mediators and attorneys."

Of the eight reduced district offices, the Senate panel only restored Baltimore's.

In addition, the legislation would require the EEOC to "assign not fewer than 57 full-time permanent positions" to that office, largely because of pressure from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

"We have great senior managers, but they are really spread thin," said Regina Andrew, a trial attorney in Baltimore's EEOC office and president of its Local 3614. "I used to be able to walk down the hall to get approval to move forward with a trial. Now, I have to wait for a response from our district attorney in Philadelphia, who may be in Pittsburgh or Cleveland that day."

The writer welcomes readers' comments and feedback. She can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent back issues can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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