Proposed raise isn't enough, federal union leaders assert

Federal Workers

February 09, 2007|By MELISSA HARRIS Melissa Harris

Federal workers would get a 3 percent raise, retirement records would move online and discretionary spending at most Maryland-based agencies would tighten under President Bush's 2008 budget proposal.

Meanwhile, retired federal workers with less than 10 years of service and veterans would lose out in health care benefits, according to the budget, which the president unveiled this week.

Pay raise: For the second time in a row, the president proposed equal raises for military and civilian workers. Given that the 3 percent proposal comes on the heels of the lowest pay raise in 20 years -- 2.2 percent -- union leaders said it was not enough.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement that he was committed to investigating the adequacy of the raise but did not promise to work to increase it.

Online retirement records: The budget proposal includes $15 million for the Office of Personnel Management to modernize workers' personnel and wage records, which are paper files kept in cabinets in Pennsylvania.

Budget cuts this year have slowed plans for the overhaul, and a new activation date is set for February 2008.

The new system would address a chief complaint of new retirees. They often go months before receiving a full pension check as OPM calculates how much they are owed -- a delay driven in part by the paper-based filing system.

Veteran health benefits: Bush has again proposed higher prescription drug co-payments and medical fees for some veterans.

Drug co-payments would increase from $8 to $15. Veterans who earn more than $50,000 and don't have service-related injuries would have to pay an enrollment fee for the military's TRICARE health program.

Congress has repeatedly rejected such proposals.

Retiree health benefits: The budget would slash the amount of money retirees with less than 10 years of federal service receive toward their health care premiums.

Now, retirees with less than five years of service don't get any help, but retirees with five to 10 years of experience get 70 percent of their premiums paid for by the government.

For workers with five years of experience, the proposal would cover them at 35 percent, a rate that would gradually increase to 70 percent after 10 years.

Given that most federal workers spend decades in the civil service, the number of people affected by this is small -- in the hundreds, said Peter Graves, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management.

The writer welcomes your 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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