WORKFORCE

Lawmakers address federal pay inequities

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Two lawmakers from Pennsylvania have set out to address the discrepancies between federal hourly-wage workers and their salaried counterparts when it comes to locality pay. On Dec. 11, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Locality Pay Equity Act in both chambers of Congress.

On Nov. 27, the Office of Personnel Management sent a memo to agency human resource managers with guidelines stating that even in cases where the state or municipal minimum wage was higher than the federal minimum wage, OPM had no authority to allow the higher local minimum wages to supersede the federal wage scale. Since July 2009, the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour.

If passed, the Locality Pay Equity Act would forbid OPM from including more than one wage area in a pay locality. Currently salaried General Schedule employees are more likely to receive higher wages and more generous raises than their hourly wage counterparts who are on the Federal Wage System, often resulting in salaried employees receiving higher pay adjustments to offset rising cost-of-living expenses than FWS workers, despite the two groups living in the same area. Locality pay under the FWS was implemented in the 1950s, mainly focusing on areas near military bases, while the GS system takes into consideration market conditions and private-sector wages for similar work.

A primer provided by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which Casey is ranking member, looked at two federal facilities to illustrate implementation of the proposed legislation.

At Tobyhanna and Letterkenny Army depots in Pennsylvania, GS workers and FWS workers are subject to different locality pay areas. “At Tobyhanna, salaried GS workers are included in the more generous New York-Newark area, whereas hourly FWS workers at the same location are instead included in the less generous Scranton-Wilkes-Barre wage area,” the committee wrote. Similarly, at Letterkenny, salaried workers are paid according to the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington locality pay area, while hourly workers are considered part of the Hagerstown-Martinsburg-Chambersburg wage area.

“These disparities dampen employee morale, create tensions within the workforce and can undermine the federal government’s ability to recruit for important positions” Casey said in a statement.

No employee would see reduced pay as a result of the act, the legislators said.

At a time when the federal government struggles to recruit and retain workers, the Locality Pay Equity Act has been considered a welcome reform. The American Federation of Government Employees, one of the federal government’s largest unions, cheered Casey and Cartwright’s effort.

“Federal employees in the skilled trades commute along the same routes and face the same living costs as their salaried coworkers,” AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley said in a statement. “There is no rational reason why the government pretends they are in different locations once they arrive at work.”

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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