Legislative Roundup


Pay Raise Work Continues

On May 7, 2008, the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the Armed Services Committee voted out its portion of the Department of Defense authorization bill (H.R. 5658) with a provision that provides a 3.9 percent pay raise for the military.

The measure was passed by the full House Armed Services Committee on May 14, 2008. The subcommittee’s action follows the Senate Armed Services Committee’s reported bill last week with an identical raise.

NTEU has worked hard to achieve this pay raise recommendation on both sides of Congress. It is in the interest of pay parity and the basis of our work to fight for a 3.9 percent pay raise for federal employees.

NTEU's 3.9 percent recommendation is based on the increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI), now at 3.4 percent, and an extra half percent. That longstanding principle has governed pay raises for both groups for many years. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has only requested a 2.9 percent pay raise for federal employees in its budget. The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act was enacted in 1990 to close the gap between federal and private sector pay and has never been fully implemented. Today federal employees are paid nearly 23 percent below the private sector.

The next step in the long legislative process will be the full Armed Services Committee markup. To see how you can help on this issue, please visit www.nteu.org, Legislative Action Center.

Paid Parental Leave

On April 15, 2008, the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform amended and reported to the full committee, H.R. 5781, the paid parental leave bill.

The measure was introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and expanded upon her bill, H.R 3799, which NTEU National President Colleen Kelley testified in support of at the March 6, 2008 hearing. During consideration of H.R. 5781, an amendment by full committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) passed to provide four weeks of paid leave (instead of eight) and grant OPM the authority to extend this down the road. The Waxman amendment was offered to address the cost and budgetary concerns with the issue.

While NTEU would have preferred eight weeks of paid leave, instead of four, this is the first time the federal government could provide paid parental leave. We believe it is a historic first step and will benefit thousands of NTEU members who are now faced with taking unpaid or no leave.

The next step in the process will be full committee consideration. NTEU is firmly committed to continue to fight for paid parental leave and work towards enactment of the measure.

Short-Term Disability

At a hearing on paid parental leave earlier this spring, an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) representative indicated that the agency had developed a legislative proposal for a short-term disability program. At that time, the only detail available was that the program would cost federal employees approximately $40 per pay period. After the hearing, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley wrote to OPM Director Springer asking for more details and suggesting that different ways be explored to fund the program other than through employee contributions.

On March 25, NTEU received a response from Director Springer indicating that OPM is seeking permission from Congress to contract with a qualified insurance carrier to create a short-term disability insurance program that would cover disability due to accident, illness, or maternity. She did not address NTEU's concerns about including unions and other employee groups in the design of such a program.

NTEU believes that Congress and the union both see a short-term disability program as something that would complement a paid parental leave program, not as a replacement for a paid parental leave program. We believe that the cost of the program should in no way be paid for entirely by employees.

NTEU will continue to work with Congress to design new benefits in these areas that will help us to recruit and retain federal employees. We will provide you more information as it becomes available.

GSA Responds to NTEU on Mileage Reimbursement

In May, GSA Administrator Lurita Doan responded to NTEU’s request that she make the new 50.5 cents per mile mileage reimbursement rate federal employees receive for government use of their privately owned automobile retroactive to the first of the year, rejecting the union’s request.

Mileage reimbursement rates affect a large number of SEC employees, such as compliance examiners who travel frequently. Each fall the Internal Revenue Service (as a matter of tax policy, not as an employer) makes a survey of fuel and other costs to determine the maximum tax-exempt mileage reimbursement employers may offer employees. This new rate takes effect the first of the year. After the first of the year, GSA makes a separate discernment on whether this maximum rate will be applied to federal employees. In practice, GSA has long matched the rate set by IRS. However, by making a separate determination and by waiting to make that determination until after the IRS rate takes effect, federal employees miss out on a rate adjustment for weeks or months into the new year. When the wait has been brief and inflation has been low, this might be tolerable. However this year, with skyrocketing gas prices and an inability to issue the new rate until March 19, NTEU asked that the 2008 rate be made retroactive to January 1, 2008.

Administrator Doan made no defense of the fact that federal employees were being reimbursed at less than their actual costs during the period in question. She simply stated the retroactivity would have a cost for the federal government. On that point she is right, but her policy is saving the federal government money by having NTEU members paying for government business out of their own pocket. NTEU is very dissatisfied with her response.

On a positive note, Doan did indicate that GSA is asking for legislative authority to allow the IRS rate be immediately applied to federal employees, resolving this problem once if enacted. NTEU will be lobbying Congress to act quickly on this legislation. While Doan’s support for this legislative change gives evidence that there is no purpose to this year’s almost three month delay in increasing the reimbursement rate, continuing the discussion with her will not be a part of NTEU’s effort as subsequent to her letter, she resigned as head of GSA. NTEU will work with other parties at GSA and on the Hill in seeking the necessary change.

NTEU Raises Concerns About Proposed DOL Changes to FMLA Rules

NTEU National President Colleen Kelley has taken sharp issue with recently proposed administration changes to Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules that would make it much more difficult for working people to secure their rights under this congressionally-mandated benefit.

A number of the proposed Department of Labor (DOL) rules changes “would inevitably deprive employees of the medical and family leave authorized by Congress,” said Kelley.

NTEU offered a variety of changes to the proposals in comments submitted in response to changes DOL wants to make impacting private sector employees under FMLA. Although the Office of Personnel Management administers FMLA for federal employees, its regulations must “to the extent appropriate, be consistent with” DOL regulations.

“Several of the proposed regulatory changes would erect needless barriers for employees requesting to use the FMLA leave to which they are entitled,” Kelley said, to the extent, she added, of proposing “to hold employees to FMLA’s more burdensome procedures even where their employer has signed a collective bargaining agreement to streamline the process.”

These are among NTEU’s specific objections to the DOL proposals:

  • A proposed new definition of “continuous treatment” which would require for the first time that an employee visit a health care provider twice within the first 30 days of incapacitation;
  • Language changes in connection with caring for an adult son or daughter that, Kelley said, “would place another enormous obstacle in the path of employees trying to use the leave Congress has provided”;
  • A “needless and burdensome requirement” in the form of a sworn, notarized statement for attesting to family relationship, rather than the current regulation calling for a simple statement from an employee;
  • Although health care providers already are required to certify an employee as incapacitated, a new provision would require such providers to specify what functions of an employee’s position the person is unable to perform;
  • Language impacting the timetable for providing missing or incomplete medical certification, as well as proposing to allow employers—as opposed to their staff doctors—to contact an employee’s health care provider; and other matters.

This latter issue addresses serious concerns about the release of employee medical information through the use of a generic form under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule. Kelley noted that HIPAA authorization “inevitably sanctions disclosure of much more medical information” than allowed by FMLA.

The signature of an employee or their family member on a HIPAA form for purposes of obtaining certification under FMLA, Kelley points out, “merely authorizes a health care provider to disclose the limited information FMLA allows employers” to obtain for purposes of confirming a serious health condition. “It must not be used as an excuse for opening the door to direct contact between employers and their employees’ health care providers,” she said.

NTEU Supports Moran Volunteerism Measure

In late April, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley endorsed legislation that would provide tangible encouragement to federal workers to take even greater part in community-based volunteer efforts that benefit others.

“Federal employees are well known for their willingness to volunteer to meet community needs,” President Kelley noted. “Their on-the-ground help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is just one example.” Another is their generosity during the government’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), when federal employees donate millions of dollars to a wide variety of charities nationwide and in their local communities.

“Federal employees, who have already dedicated their lives to public service, know well that volunteering is a two-way benefit. It can help meet a vital community need, and it provides an enormous sense of fulfillment and satisfaction for those engaging in it,” President Kelley said.

The measure supported by NTEU was introduced by Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) during National Volunteer Week, which runs from April 27 through May 3. This annual celebration of volunteers and the contributions they make to our communities was established by presidential executive order in 1974.

The legislation would permit federal employees to use two sick leave days each year to volunteer for qualified community service, defined as volunteer service performed for a charitable organization which is participating in the Combined Federal Campaign.

“This legislation is about providing our civil service with a benefit on par with what is being offered by some of the more desirable workplaces in the U.S.,” said Rep. Moran. “It’s not only a recruitment and retention tool, but a way to develop a happier, healthier and more highly-skilled workforce.”

President Kelley said that “NTEU frequently hears about the volunteer activities our members undertake from mentoring a grade school class to collecting toys for children during the holiday season to sending care packages to troops overseas. This bill is an easy way for the federal government to add thousands of additional volunteer hours to provide hope and assistance to members of our communities who need a hand.”