FAA pay raise issue lingers

Computer specialists at the Federal Aviation Administration continue to fight for the governmentwide information technology pay raise issued by the Office of Personnel Management last year.

In June, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2282 won an arbitration decision against the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, a ruling the agency has appealed.

"The agency offers no reason or explanation as to the disparate treatment accorded its engineer employees and its IT employees, other than [that] it has the power to do so," arbitrator Ed Bankston wrote in his opinion and award.

In the past, the FAA has argued that new regulations, such as the OPM directive, don't automatically apply under the agency's personnel management system and that its own core compensation plan provides competitive salaries. In some cases, FAA employees are paid more than their counterparts at other agencies.

However, many of the agency's computer specialists don't receive core compensation because they are part of collective bargaining units that negotiate their own contracts. The real concern with the FAA position is that "a lot of the employees feel like they're second rate," said Keith Bennett, a computer specialist at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and secretary of AFGE Local 2282.

The OPM raise, which ranged from 7 percent to 33 percent for workers in the GS-334 series, went into effect Jan. 1, 2001. When the FAA chose not to adopt it, the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) union filed a grievance on behalf of about 100 computer specialists in the agency's Flight Standards unit.

PASS and the FAA agreed to arbitration, and a year ago, arbitrator Suzanne Butler ruled the agency was required to give the raise to computer specialists not covered by the negotiated pay system. The FAA subsequently filed an exception.

With that appeal pending before the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), AFGE Local 2282 brought its own case forward.

"We're glad that people are successfully fighting to get some pay equity," said Phillip Kete, supervisor of AFGE's Office of Labor Management Relations. "They are just a very successful local unit."

AFGE has advised bargaining units to first work with management to implement any possible improvements, and then turn to arbitration, Kete said. AFGE Local 2282 is the only unit to win an arbitration decision, according to Kete. Workers stand to gain $2,500 to $9,000 a year if the pay raise were to take place, according to Bennett.

"It's a significant pay raise," he said, adding that his annual salary would increase $4,421.

FAA officials are still waiting to hear from the FLRA, which is handling both appeals, before commenting.

"It makes us want to look elsewhere for work," Bennett said. "The FAA just said, 'Hey, you IT people just go across town and work for Tinker [Air Force Base].' I got a lot of people waiting to see what happens."

AFGE officials are optimistic. "We're pretty sure the local is right, and that usually counts for something," Kete said.

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