Pay raise and FERS rescue going down to the wire

If white collar feds get a pay raise in January and if major efforts to make the Federal Employees Retirement System cost more and pay less are blocked, pat yourself on the back.

That is, if you are a dues-paying member of a union, managers group or retiree association representing active and retired feds. And if not, either because you don’t like unions, don’t like dues or aren’t permitted to join, find somebody close who is.  Then take them to lunch, or at least say thanks.

Members of groups supporting feds and retirees, at all levels, are usually the difference between a freeze or a pay raise. This is nothing new. For years they’ve been fighting a successful (so far) rear guard action to protect and preserve FERS and the Civil Service Retirement System. The retirement plans are the jewel in the federal crown of benefits.

Past pay freezes have come from both Democratic and Republican presidents. Plans to whack-a-mole the retirement plan also have had bipartisan support in the past. For the last two years the attacks on pay and the FERS program have come from either the White House or a powerful group of House Republicans.

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President Donald Trump directed the 2019 pay freeze earlier this year. He wants to use the money to setup a system the White House said would better reward top-performers. The House GOP plan, which is not backed by all Republicans, would raise FERS employee contributions to the plan by 6 percent over a six-year period.  Even worse, it would eliminate future cost of living adjustments.  Current and future FERS retirees would not get increases no matter how long they were retired or how much inflation goes up. CSRS retirees are due a 2.8 percent COLA this January while FERS retirees will get a diet-COLA of 2 percent. If approved, under the proposed changes the CSRS raise would be reduced while FERS retirees would get nothing.

Much of what the pro-fed, pro-retiree groups do is behind-the-scenes.  A lot of it takes place in home districts and states of House and Senate members. Demonstrations and rallies are nice to whip up the troops and capture 20 seconds of TV time but it’s the behind-the-scenes grunt work that has been most effective for workers and retirees. It’s what you don’t see that determines what you get or don’t get.

So where do you stand today, less than three weeks before the midterms?  You are a lot better off legislatively than six months ago. At that time the January 2019 pay raise seemed to be a deceased duck.  And the talk was which parts of FERS would be made more expensive, less valuable or both, not whether they would be.

Preoccupation with the midterm elections kept Congress, especially the House, out of town most of the year. That’s nearly always a good thing for feds and retirees. During that time the coalition representing workers, managers and retirees managed to get the Senate to support the January raise. It will be decided in a budget conference with the House. The the once-serious threat to the FERS retirement program appears to have lost its steam.

Groups representing feds never like to claim victory before it’s in hand. The idea is to keep the pressure on Congress. But we did speak to two veterans of the employee-retiree coalition. One said “we’re optimistic about the chances of a federal pay raise getting through Congress, but we won’t know until December, likely … I don’t foresee a realistic threat between now and the end of the year on federal benefit changes.”

But there is always next year. Another lobbyist was more cautious:

“Despite the reports of a deal on the federal pay raise, it has not passed Congress. Until that happens we remain hopeful but continue our work to actually secure it.  As to retirement changes, the administration is pushing hard but it hasn’t seemed to gain the traction it needs on the hill.  That can change quickly but right now I don’t see it.”

Keep your fingers crossed and if the raise happens and the retirement cuts don’t, you can relax — until next year!

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Chances are you’ve heard the Wilhelm scream in multiple movies and television shows and never knew it. It’s a stock sound effect recorded in 1951 and has since appeared in 389 films and TV series. It is believed to have been recorded by Sheb Wooley, singer of “The Purple People Eater” novelty song, and can be heard in the “Star Wars” series, “Indiana Jones,” “Toy Story 3,” “Juno,” “Anchorman,” and many more.

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB