As President Biden has named presidential appointees to sit on the Federal Salary Council (FSC), a body that makes recommendations on federal compensation issues, AFGE is asking the administration and Congress to compensate federal workers fairly.
Most federal employees are covered under two pay systems. Hourly workers in the skilled trades are paid under the Federal Wage System while salaried workers in professional, administrative, and technical occupations are paid under the General Schedule’s Locality Pay System.
Both pay systems are based on the principle of local labor market comparability. But successive Congresses and administrations have failed to adhere to this principle, causing federal wages and salaries to fall far below the standards set in the private sector and state and local governments. As a result, federal employees are underpaid relative to their non-federal counterparts.
Since 2011, federal pay has gone up by just 15.1%, leaving the inflation-adjusted value of federal wages and salaries at least 9.2% lower than it was a decade ago. Federal workers are currently underpaid by about 23% compared with those doing the same jobs in non-federal sectors.
What Biden and Congress need to do
- Give federal workers a 5.1% raise next year
AFGE supports The FAIR Act, bills introduced by Representative Gerry Connolly and Senator Brian Schatz that provide a federal pay raise of 5.1% for 2023 as a means of restoring federal employee living standards.
- Equalize the boundaries of local pay areas for GS and FWS employees
Pay area boundaries for both systems should be governed by commuting rates, which is the definition of a local labor market. Retaining old boundaries for hourly workers creates enormous inequities between the two pay systems. Hourly workers’ locality or wage area boundaries were drawn mostly in the 1950s, reflecting the location of large military installations that employed most federal hourly workers at that time.
- Fully fund federal pay systems
One crucial virtue of the GS system is its objectivity. Salaries are set for jobs, not individuals, so there is little discrimination in pay based on race, gender, or other non-merit factors. Yet there have been attempts to “be like” the private sector, where racial wage discrimination and gender pay gap have been a chronic problem.
Some lawmakers and contractors posing as “good government” experts continue to push for a new white collar pay system that allows managers and political appointees to decide whether and by how much to adjust each federal employee’s pay. They would also reallocate pay from the bottom of the scale to fund raises at the top, trying to recreate the vast pay inequities that prevail in the private sector. Such an approach inevitably results in politicization, inconsistency, inequity and discrimination in pay, just as it did during the George W. Bush era NSPS experiment at the Department of Defense.
The only problem with federal pay comes from a failure to fund market comparability rates. So-called pay for performance schemes are just Trojan horses for redistribution of payroll from the bottom to the top and open the door to discrimination and politicization in pay.