Lack of movement on new locality pay locations frustrates feds, unions

The Federal Salary Council voted Friday to add 13 cities to a list of municipalities where federal employees are paid more, in an effort to close a growing wage gap between feds and private-sector counterparts in certain regions of the country.

Nationwide, the council says, the salaries of federal employees under the General Schedule are 35.18 percent less than that of people doing similar work in the private sector, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure does not include other forms of compensation, such as benefits.

The cities recommended are Albany, New York; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Davenport, Iowa; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Laredo, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Palm Bay, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Tucson, Arizona and Kansas City.

Kansas City was the only new recommendation. In all the other cases, the council had already approved the cities for locality pay rates.

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A trio of Obama Administration officials known collectively as the President’s Pay Agent tentatively has accepted the recommendations. Yet it has failed to publish implementing regulations. Rather, President Barack Obama has frozen locality pay rates until 2016. That has left federal employees in those cities in limbo. It has also frustrated the council members who represent federal labor unions.

“I have a very bad feeling that nothing is going to happen here,” said William Fenaughty, national secretary treasurer of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

In a statement issued before the council meeting, the American Federation of Government Employees accused the Obama Administration of being scared that House Republicans and the public would not support the move.

“They keep telling us that they’re working on them,” said AFGE President J. David Cox. “We were told back during the pay freeze that we’d be willing to roll as soon as the pay freeze is lifted.”

President Obama lifted the pay freeze in January. But because the freeze on locality pay rates remains, it is unlikely the administration will issue the regulations any time soon, according to Mark Allen, OPM’s acting deputy associate director for Pay and Leave.

“The President’s Pay Agent has not determined yet when it would be appropriate to issue the regulations,” he said.

The soonest the regulations would go into effect would be Jan. 1, 2016, he said.

The council also voted to expand locality pay areas to include commuters who live just outside the designated zones. That would ease retention problems in places like Berkshire County, Massachusetts, which is surrounded by counties where federal employees receive a locality pay increase.

“Federal employees in Berkshire County have been taking it on the chin,” testified Patrick DeFalco, chair of the Federal Executive Association of Western Massachusetts. “It is not without challenges to management. Many positions in Berkshire County have become stepping stones.”

The Pay Agent usually issues its annual report, in which it accepts or rejects the council’s recommendations, in the spring.

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