Letter to the Editor: VA union’s perspective on federal pay

Dear Editor,

In “Working for a living is hard, but have a little perspective,” Tom Temin dismisses the experiences and valid concerns of federal workers who have dedicated their careers to public service. Department of Veterans Affairs workers are a prime example.

At the VA, workers don’t have the same career growth and mobility opportunities as their private sector counterparts. Horrible promotional practices and a bait-and-switch hiring process often leave VA workers with inadequate salaries and little room for advancement. That’s not “perspective”; that’s a fact.

We know that the average pay for all federal workers, including VA workers, is 23% lower than their private sector counterparts. These pay discrepancies are not a mystery nor difficult to determine, as Temin suggests. And determining these pay discrepancies across different positions should certainly not present a barrier to fair compensation.

Moreover, the record number of vacancies within the VA shows that despite the benefits that Temin outlines, many prospective workers are still unwilling to choose public service. This presents enormous challenges for staffing and retention at VA hospitals. Again, this is not a matter of “perspective” — this is a real impact on our ability to deliver quality care for veterans.

Respectfully, I must reject Temin’s assertion that federal workers enter public service “with the understanding that neither the best nor the worst of private sector employment practices and benefits happen in the federal government.” That is an excuse for valuing federal workers less than their counterparts in the private sector — with real consequences for the workers and their families and those they serve.

Temin’s tone-deaf comparison to the coal mining industry to present a “reality check” for federal workers insults all front-line workers who died from COVID. It also disregards the thousands of workers who got sick on the job and those who still suffer from COVID-related complications.

The challenges VA workers and all federal employees face are real and should not be dismissed. We have to do better for VA workers and all federal employees, and that starts with passing the FAIR Act and ensuring an 8.7% average pay increase.

Alma L. Lee, AFGE National VA Council President



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