Federal Workers, Retirees Win Important Provisions in House Subcommittee Markup


9/18/07: An important House subcommittee has marked up legislation containing provisions that would strengthen and expand the rights of federal employees and members of the military — including allowing retirees from both groups to use pre-tax income to pay health insurance premiums. At present, only current federal workers can use pre-tax income for such payments.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which played a key role in securing the benefit for federal workers starting in 2000, has been strongly advocating its extension to retirees as well.

The markup by the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia covered the health care legislation; a bill that would clarify—but only prospectively—the method for computing certain annuities based on part-time federal service; and a third measure reauthorizing the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill).

NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley welcomed in particular subcommittee action on the use by retirees of pre-tax income for health care costs. “This is a very important first step on a meaningful issue,” she said, adding that its passage “will help relieve the expense federal retirees are absorbing to pay for their health care costs.”

Kelley noted that over the past six years, retiree cost of living adjustments have ranged from 1.3 to 3.5 percent; at the same time, health care premiums in some years have risen by double digits. The measure was introduced with bipartisan support by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.)

As to the proposed changes in computing annuities under the Civil Service Retirement System for part-time work, the NTEU leader expressed disappointment at the idea of making them prospective only. “I’m glad to see there is some movement on this issue,” she said, “but not making the change retroactive is unfair to a large number of people who would be treated in a significantly different manner through no fault of their own.” NTEU, she said, will continue its efforts to broaden the scope of the measure.

On the reauthorization of both the MSPB and OSC, President Kelley was sharply critical of efforts by subcommittee Republicans to strike from the bill a section making clear that federal employees have the right to be free from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

OSC is claiming it does not have jurisdiction to enforce any such rights. The bill’s language — strongly supported by NTEU and approved by the subcommittee — contains this statement: “In order to dispel any public confusion, Congress repudiates any assertion that federal employees are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

NTEU scored another victory in this measure, as well, when the subcommittee rejected a request from the MSPB that it be permitted to issue motions for summary judgment on matters brought before it. NTEU has a long history of fighting for expanded legal and workplace rights for federal workers, including the meaningful opportunity to be heard at every stage of proceedings and in every forum, and the union strongly opposed this MSPB proposal.