These lucky feds are getting a 30 percent pay raise

What would you do if your pay increased by 30 percent or more? A handful of federal employees in North Dakota and Montana’s booming oil region should find out soon.

The Office of Personnel Management has approved a salary boost for more than 160 civilian employees at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, and eight other locations near the Bakken oil fields. The employees work in 17 trades. They include mechanics, electricians and drill rig operators. Their supervisors and managers will get hefty increases of 10 percent to 30 percent as well.

At a time when President Barack Obama has proposed a 1.3 percent increase for General Schedule employees, the news seems too good to be true. But the oil-and-gas industry has driven prices up in the area, causing a lot of stress among the federal employees there, said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Her office repeatedly has noted that it takes as long as 200 days to fill civilian engineering jobs at Minot.

“Part of the success of the Minot Air Base is the civilian workforce,” she said in a video released by her office. “We need to recognize that we need to pay them appropriately so they can continue to provide those services. If we have rapid turnover, that’s disruptive in the mission of the air base and it’s costly to the federal government. Retaining these employees, treating them fairly is a big part of what we’re hoping to do with these pay adjustments.”

There are plenty of ads for mechanics and other skilled trades people on USAJobs.gov, the federal jobs site. But they offer no more than $27 per hour at a time when companies in the region are offering $40 on average, according to a letter from OPM Deputy Associate Director for Pay and Leave Brenda Roberts to the Defense Department Civilian Personnel Advisory Service. In the letter, Roberts said the payline rate for similar jobs will rise to 82 percent of the market average, or about $33 per hour. While OPM has approved the increase, the exact timing of the raises depends on the agencies involved.

This is the second large pay increase for federal employees in the region in recent months. In December, OPM authorized agencies to give 150 food-service workers, custodians and others raises of at least 33 percent.

Yet both Heitkamp and the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents civilian defense workers at Minot, said the government needs to raise pay for many more federal employees in the region. About 6,200 work in North Dakota, according to OPM.

“Federal employees have seen their purchasing power dwindle due to the oil shale boom. Private-sector employers have already responded to the market by raising their wages, but the federal government has lagged behind. We will continue fighting to increase wages for all employees in the area,” said AFGE President J. David Cox in a statement.

The union said it has taken two years of campaigning to get to this point. The effort got a boost last fall, when Heitkamp hosted OPM Director Katherine Archuleta on a visit to North Dakota. During the trip, Archuleta heard from officials at the departments of Defense, Interior and Agriculture. They talked about their struggles to hire and retain police officers and social workers in addition to trades people, according to Heitkamp.

Here’s where engineers, mechanics and other tradespeople are getting raises:

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