When OPM Drags its Feet, This Local Takes Matters into Their Own Hands

Categories: DoD, The Insider

In 2005, Monroe County Pennsylvania was brought into the New York City pay locality because commuting data from the Census showed the county was part of the larger New York labor market. Monroe County is where Tobyhanna Army Depot is located, and for the past 13 years, General Schedule (GS) employees at Tobyhanna have been paid from the New York City schedule.  

Blue collar workers working at the same base, however, were not switched over as their wages were on a different pay system. Tobyhanna’s hourly workers work at the exact same location for the same employer, travel the same roads, and experience the same living costs as their GS co-workers. Yet because the Federal Wage System (FWS), the government’s pay system for workers in the skilled trades, doesn’t use commuting data for its locality boundaries, hourly wages at Tobyhanna follow the Scranton, Pa. schedule rather than the New York City wage schedule. The disparities between blue and white collar pay at Tobyhanna have become enormous, even when the duties, skills, and responsibilities of their jobs were substantially similar.  

As their wages lagged behind, blue collar workers left their jobs to take GS jobs, causing major gaps in the skilled trade career fields. These gaps are currently being filled, in part, by outsourcing jobs with costly contractor personnel also earning more than the federal blue collar workers performing the same work.  

Tobyhanna provides logistical support and electronics overhaul and repairs for C4ISR equipment for our armed forces world-wide. When the depot’s highly-skilled FWS employees deploy, their pay is lower than that of the GS staff who processes their orders. These FWS employees are often required to possess the same or more specialized certifications than the GS employees they are deploying with, yet they are being paid at the lower locality area. The GS pay is appropriate, but the FWS employees are not compensated for the highly-skilled work they perform.  

Consider a husband and wife who pay the same price for gas and groceries but one has the benefit of New York locality pay rates and the other doesn’t. AFGE Local 1647 President Carl Biscontini said this inequity has been a major problem at Tobyhanna.  

“The employees who have associate degrees who come in to work in electronics are leaving their chosen career field to opt into a GS career field because they realize they can make a lot more money in order to meet the living costs of the area. They went to school to be a technician and they tell us if you get this pay gap fixed, we’ll come back and work on the equipment, like we trained to do.” he said.  

To address the problem, years ago the local reached out to the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee (FPRAC), which agreed that Tobyhanna Wage Grade employees needed to be in the same locality pay area as GS workers. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), however, refused to take action citing a pay freeze.  

“It was totally wrong and nothing to do with the pay freeze,” Biscontini said.  

After the pay freeze was lifted, the local went to FPRAC again and the panel recommended the locality pay raise for them again, but OPM said it didn’t have a permanent director to move it.  

Now there is a permanent director at OPM, but the agency still has not acted. The local has requested a meeting with the new OPM director, but has not received an answer at this time. The local has pursued a legislative solution in each of the past six Congresses, and is again seeking to pass legislation to fix this problem once and for all.  

Rep. Matt Cartwright and Sen. Robert Casey have introduced bills in the House and Senate to address the issue. HR. 4039 and S.2435 would make sure that no GS locality besides Rest of US can include more than one wage area. That way, both salaried and hourly federal employees working in the same location will receive not only the same annual pay adjustments, but also be paid according to same underlying local schedules.  

The local is asking AFGE members to call their members of Congress to cosponsor the bills. 

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