Wage freeze would affect thousands in East Central Illinois

U.S. Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Urbana, on Monday endorsed the wage freeze, saying "this is a good first step and the first of many that need to be taken."

Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the move would save about $2 billion, but since the national debt stands at nearly $14 trillion, "there's a long way to go."

Bloomer said Johnson is concerned about the expansion of federal employees in recent years. He said there were 8,905 federal employees and retirees in Johnson's 15th Congressional District in November 2008, up from 5,488 employees and retirees six years earlier.

Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomer said Vermilion County has 2,219 federal employees and retirees – a bit more than Champaign County's 2,198.

Many of the Vermilion County jobs are associated with the VA hospital, which employs 1,338. Some of those workers are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees.

Doug Shouse, spokesman for the health care system, said since the two-year freeze for 2011 and 2012 does not affect bonuses or step increases, it would essentially be a continuation of what Congress passed for 2010 – no cost-of-living increase.

Shouse said it won't affect the care given to patients.

"We do not see any impact to our veterans as we continue to provide quality care to our nation's heroes," he said.

At the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Champaign, spokeswoman Paige Buck said she hadn't heard anything about the pay freeze other than what was announced at the national level.

The office, on West Park Court in Champaign, employs about 40, and the agency has about 300 employees statewide, she said.

But Buck noted that's only a small part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture payroll in Illinois.

News-Gazette staff writers Don Dodson and Pat Phillips contributed to this story.

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