When your bosses are millionaires

So what’s it like to work for the world’s largest non-profit, run largely by millionaires who, in theory, work for you? In this case, that you is you. The worker bee, not the millionaire, that is! You know who you are.

With a billionaire president and a majority-millionaire House and Senate, federal workers and retirees, most of whom aren’t millionaires, face an uphill battle with their bosses.

When it comes time to cut costs and reduce the deficit, the federal payroll and retirement package make tempting targets. Annual pay raises smaller than those promised by the bipartisan FEPCA law have been the norm since the Clinton administration. Zero pay raises and furloughs have also been used to save money. Or as pawns (like the Obama administration’s sequestration poison pill) in power struggles between the White House and Congress.

In touchy-feely movies, millionaires can be great, kind, loving and generous. In real life, not so much.

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Those who inherited their wealth have no idea what it’s like struggling to pay the electric bill or deciding whether to do without a family vacation for all, or braces for little Jimmy.

Those who made their millions the hard way before coming to Congress — with a combination of luck, timing and hard work — often have contempt for (or at least not much respect) people doing the daily grind who will never make over $70k in their lives. If they can do it, à la Horatio Alger, why can’t you, clock-watching drone?

Those who made their millions AFTER being elected and serving in Congress should be role models for the rest of us on how to manage money.

The administration is calling upon Congress to make major changes in the federal retirement system. It wants FERS workers to increase their retirement contributions by 1 percent a year over each of the next six years. No problem for a millionaire on the federal payroll. Big problem for people for whom take-home pay is the reality.

It wants to wipe out cost-of-living adjustments for FERS retirees. Not a problem if you have millions on hand. Major problem when inflation wipes out your annuity.

It wants to reduce future cost-of-living adjustments for CSRS retirees, which will gradually erode the buying power of their pensions. But no biggie for politicians who enjoy an enhanced version of the two retirement programs.

The Federal-Postal Coalition has helped round up 100 House members who say they will oppose efforts to hold down future federal pay raises (which were held down by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations).

The coalition represents federal and postal unions, management organizations, and groups that represent federal professionals and retirees. It’s got a lot of clout. That’s the good news. But there are 435 members of the House. Having 100 on your side is good, but not decisive.

The other thing is that all of the bold 100 (the ones who say they will stand up for you) are Democrats. Again, great, but not that great. At last look, the president is a Republican, and the House and Senate are controlled by Republican majorities.

The union’s automatic endorsement of Democratic candidates in each election for at least the last 40 years has given some people the impression that feds and postal workers are in the bag for that party. While it almost certainly isn’t true, it has made many congressional Democrats take the fed-postal bloc for granted and no doubt convinced many Republicans to write them off.

What’s needed — and this may be the perfect time — is for Congress to reassemble the old bipartisan coalition, which for years beat back attempts to trim federal benefits, pay and retirement.

When the Clinton administration first proposed reduced (or zero) pay raises for white-collar feds, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took the lead over a bipartisan coalition that outflanked the White House occupied by one of their own.

When the Bush administration proposed smaller raises, the same coalition took action, led by former Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.), both Virginia Republicans in chock-full-of-feds districts. They were replaced Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a long-time backer of feds and retirees, and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.).

Wolf and Davis have retired, but Hoyer is still there, still keenly aware of the large number of feds he represents. And he’s in a key leadership role in the minority. So is Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who was a key part of the old coalition.

Could it happen again? Could Republicans and Democrats bury their hatchets somewhere other than each others’ backs, at least for awhile? At least over the pending issues facing non-millionaire federal workers, postal employees and retirees, who shouldn’t be victims of a breach of contract mid-career or mid-retirement.

If you live in a congressional district or state with lots of feds — maybe military bases, a federal prison, VA hospital or IRS center — check in with one of the unions or associations representing feds or retirees.

Check what they are doing and what they recommend you do. You might even consider joining one of them. If you’ve held off because you don’t like what they’ve done, or not done, in the past, get inside and change it. If you don’t like the idea of paying dues (which are very, very low compared to non-federal unions) consider the alternative: What you could lose in income and in retirement benefits if any, or all, of the proposed changes happen.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Jory Heckman

Approximately 70 percent of millionaires do not consider themselves “wealthy.”

Source: CNN Money

Read more of Mike Causey’s Federal Report

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