FAA tech workers win pay raise

After nearly two years of haggling with agency officials over a governmentwide pay raise, several computer specialists at the Federal Aviation Administration will get a long-awaited financial boost.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority has ordered the FAA to comply with an arbitrator's decision granting the salary increase. The FLRA's 2-1 ruling on Sept. 6 will cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay alone, according to officials at the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) union, which represents the employees.

In November 2000, the Office of Personnel Management announced the governmentwide raise, which ranged from 7 percent to 33 percent for information technology workers in the GS-334 series, as a way to improve recruitment. It went into effect the following January. The GS-334 series later became the GS-2210 series.

When the FAA chose not to adopt the pay raise, arguing that it was no longer subject to OPM regulations since its pay system is separate from the General Schedule system, PASS 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 in favor of the union.

The FAA subsequently filed an exception, which was rejected. "Nothing in the language of [the law] prohibits the agency from granting the appropriate employees the special rate," the FLRA panel wrote in its ruling. "Instead, it merely authorizes the agency to set the compensation levels of its employees."

Further, computer specialists in the flight standards unit have not negotiated a new pay system with the FAA and, as a result, are still under the General Schedule system, according to PASS officials.

Thanks to the FLRA's ruling, those employees will receive an average annual increase of $4,000, depending on location, and an average back pay of $7,500, union officials estimated.

"It gives them recognition of their value in the marketplace equivalent to other IT workers," said Allyn Dillman, a labor relations specialist at PASS.

FAA officials were still reviewing the decision Sept. 13 and had not yet determined how to proceed, said Tammy Jones, an agency spokeswoman. The FAA could appeal in federal court, according to a Sept. 10 memorandum from PASS counsel Michael Derby to union leaders.

Another FLRA ruling on the same matter is pending. In June, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2282, which implemented a core compensation plan in April, won an arbitration decision against the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, a decision the agency has appealed.

"I don't know that the FAA will be any more successful than they were on ours," Dillman said.

Keith Bennett, a computer specialist at the Monroney Center and secretary of AFGE Local 2282, remains hopeful. "It's what we expected to happen. It's what we think is right," Bennett said of the outcome for PASS. "They're going to almost have to decide the same way."

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