Workers in 6 regions to get higher locality pay in 2019

Categories: Pay, The Insider, Contracts

Federal employees in six metropolitan areas should begin receiving higher locality pay next year to account for large pay gaps with non-federal employers. 

The Federal Salary Council, on which AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. and Public Policy Director Jacque Simon serve, voted April 10 to create locality pay areas in six parts of the country with larger than average pay gaps with non-federal employers. Those metropolitan areas are San Antonio, Texas; Birmingham, Ala.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Burlington, Vt.; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Omaha, Neb. 

All six areas have pay gaps that are more than 10 percentage points above the pay gap for the “Rest of U.S.” locality area, which is the current criteria for establishing new pay localities. 

The Salary Council approved creating four of the new locality areas back in 2016, but the new rates can’t take effect until final regulations have been issued by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management.  

The council also agreed to review the current methods used for determining when areas outside of existing pay localities should be either added to nearby localities or turned into their own pay locality. 

The council heard from federal employers in three locations – Charleston, S.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Imperial County, Calif. – who are finding it almost impossible to recruit and retain the workers they need because federal wages are not competitive. Yet none of the areas qualify for their own pay locality under the current methodology. 

The VA hospital in Charleston has about 400 vacancies, or 12 percent of its allotted staff, said Scott Isaacks, director of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Isaacks and others said they rely on recruitment bonuses to help offset the lower salaries, but even if that works – and it doesn’t always – many employees leave for higher paying jobs as soon as their two-year commitment is up. 

But changing the methodology alone won’t solve the recruitment and retention problems so many agencies are facing. Both Congress and the White House have refused to provide federal employees with their full locality pay raises as called for under a 1990 law that was intended to narrow the public-private pay gap. Plus, years of across-the-board pay freezes and minimum increases this decade mean employees are earning nearly 5% less today than they did at the start of the decade. This is a serious issue as it's harming our veterans, the security of our country on the border, and all other areas. 

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