WASHINGTON – Reckless budget cuts targeting federal employees’ pay, retirement and jobs is making it all but impossible for federal workers to maintain productivity while carrying out their agencies’ missions, the head of the largest union representing federal and D.C. government workers testified today.
“Whether it’s Border Patrol agents without enough staff to keep drug smugglers out of the country, or USDA’s plans to speed up the line at chicken processing plants so federal inspectors can’t guarantee food safety, or VA doctors with patient loads at 2,000 instead of the best practices standard of 1,200, sequestration’s cost cutting reduces productivity and service,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. told the House Oversight and Government Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census.
Federal employees have been demoralized in recent years by relentless and unjustifiably harsh pay and retirement cuts instituted under the guise of austerity, Cox testified at the July 15 hearing. Due to three straight years of frozen pay, the salary gap between federal and non-federal employees doing similar jobs has grown to an average of 35 percent.
Legislation requiring newly hired federal employees to pay substantially more of their salary toward their defined benefit pension has created an inequitable workplace in which employees doing the same job are earning different salaries based solely on when they were hired.
For example, a chemical engineer at Corpus Christi VA Hospital hired today will earn $1,300 less per year than someone in the exact same job and hospital who was hired prior to 2013 because of the increased pension contribution. Likewise, a respiratory therapist at Boston VA Medical Center hired today will earn nearly $1,900 less per year than someone doing the same job at the same facility hired before 2013.
The pay cuts resulting from these pension contribution hikes undermine one of the greatest virtues of the General Schedule pay system: that employees doing the same job are paid essentially the same salary. This component of the GS system was highlighted recently in a report by the Office of Personnel Management examining gender pay equality.
Proponents of forcing federal employees to pay more for their pensions have falsely argued that increasing retirement contributions brings the federal government in line with the private sector, disregarding the fact that 96 percent of private-sector defined benefit plans do not charge employees anything for their benefit.
“If this policy is not modified or repealed, it will impoverish an entire generation of federal employees,” Cox said.
Nevertheless, Cox said federal employees are a devoted and resilient group who work hard to do the best job they can, even under these trying and difficult circumstances.
“They are sick and tired of being a political punching bag and ATM. But they love their country, they love their jobs and they are profoundly devoted to their agencies’ missions.” Cox said.