The Federal Salary Council voted Friday to add two new separate locality pay areas for 2018.
Based on the Council’s recommendation, Birmingham, Alabama and San Antonio, Texas would join other metropolitan and municipal areas with higher federal pay than the rest of the U.S. Employees in those areas are currently paid what most other workers receive in “rest of the U.S.” category, but the pay gap for Birmingham and San Antonio exceeded 10 percent on average over the past three years.
The decision to add the two locations came after the council researched pay gaps for 45 different areas across the country over a three-year period. Friday’s vote is the first step in what can often be a long process. The federal pay agent must then finalize all recommendations from the council.
The council also unveiled the average pay gap between most federal employees and private sector workers, which crept slightly down this year.
Federal employees, on average, earn about 34.07 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Office of Personnel Management. That’s down slightly from the previous year’s 34.92 percent.
“Many areas of the country are continuing to struggle to recruit and retain good workers for these jobs,” J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees and member of the Federal Salary Council, said after the meeting. “But a 34 percent pay gap is a significant pay gap.”
Congress passed a law in the 1990s that was designed to eliminate the pay gap between public and private sector workers, but lawmakers have never set aside enough funding to do that.
Cox said AFGE would make federal compensation a top priority in its work with the new Congress and administration.
“I can promise you as the new Congress comes in, one of the first pieces of legislation you’re probably going to see introduced is a new pay raise for federal employees that would be at least 5.3 percent, possibly even more, because we continue to lose ground. There is more to catch up on.”
In addition, roughly 13,251 employees who work in “rest of U.S.” pay areas will be moved into other existing pay locality areas starting in January, under a separate vote from the council.
The Federal Salary Council also said it would encourage the President Pay Agent’s to officially recognize Virginia Beach/Norfolk, Virginia and Burlington/South Burlington, Vermont, which would join 47 other metropolitan and municipal areas with higher federal pay than the rest of the U.S. The council voted to recognize these two locations as locality pay areas at its meeting last year, but the pay agent hasn’t yet acted on the recommendation.
The council often receives requests from federal employees who fall within the “rest of U.S.” category, asking that it consider additional research on a location and establish it as a separate new locality pay area. This year, employees in 29 regions made that request, but the council said it would not take action.
Charleston/North Charleston, South Carolina was one of those areas. Establishing the region as its own locality pay area would impact more than 10,000 people at 42 agencies, said Sean McBride, an Army Corps of Engineers employee who represents the Federal Executives Association (FEA) in Charleston.
This is the first year employees from Charleston have made a proposal to the council.
“The cost of living in Charleston has risen tremendously,” he said. “Housing prices and costs of living have risen exponentially, while federal salaries have been frozen in that time. We’re having a lot of difficulty hiring highly qualified candidates to perform our missions are taking extremely long periods of time to fill our jobs.”
All agency executives in the area said it took them at least 60 days to fill a position, and 55 percent said it took 120 days or more, according to a FEA survey.
The council didn’t specifically offer why it declined to consider Charleston and other regions as their own locality pay areas, other than suggesting that agency leaders offer special incentives to attract new talent.
But McBride said those incentives don’t seem to be working. Yet he and his colleagues say they plan to go back to the drawing board and refine their proposal. They acknowledged that their fight will be a long one.
“We’ve never encountered anybody that’s ever been successful on their first attempt to establish a new,” he said. “We’ve talked to a number of places that have been successful in the last few years with their proposals. All of them said it took either three, or four or five attempts, and then you still have to wait another year and a half before they would actually establish your rate. It’s a very long process. Employees are still being affected. We’re losing employees. We’re still not being able to bring them in, and it’s hurting our missions even more.”