Kelley Warns of Economic Hardships from Potential Cuts in Benefits to Workers Injured On the Job


 4/14/11: Federal employees knocked out of the workforce because of a job-related injury should not be forced to exchange workers’ compensation benefits for payments from a retirement plan that the injured worker never had the chance to properly fund, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley told a House subcommittee in submitted comments.

Such a result “would cause grave economic hardship to many disabled workers,” President Kelley wrote to the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce.

The subcommittee has undertaken a review of the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), a review NTEU welcomes. However, President Kelley expressed deep concern over proposals for a forced retirement provision. “Forcing a worker at retirement age to give up regular FECA benefits and live on the income from retirement savings put aside until his or her work life was interrupted by an on-the-job injury would cause grave economic hardship to many disabled employees,” President Kelley said.

FECA is designed to provide adequate benefits to injured federal workers while limiting the government’s liability to workers’ compensation payments. Under FECA, payments are to be prompt and predetermined so as to relieve employees and agencies from uncertainty over the outcome of court cases and to eliminate wasteful litigation. 

An employee who is injured on the job and unable to work receives FECA payments equal to 67 percent of wages at the time of injury—an amount that is increased slightly if the person has family obligations. This reduction in income after an injury makes it impossible for an injured employee to fund a retirement plan, Kelley said.

The government’s primary principle should be making the federal workplace safe by actions to move us towards the goal where no worker need come to work with the possibility it will be his or her last day on the job because of a workplace injury, Kelley said.

Making a broader point, the NTEU leader said “We believe that effective government is advanced by a civil service that is expected to have the highest levels of professionalism and competence, and, in turn, is fairly compensated and treated with dignity and respect.”

She added: “There is no greater disrespect to human dignity than to have to suffer an injury from an unsafe workplace or from employer negligence. NTEU wants to work with this subcommittee or any other policymaker to find ways to reduce the costs of the FECA program. Our belief is the best way to do so is not by reducing benefits or denying valid claims, but by preventing the occurrence of injuries.”