J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, is seen during an interview with Federal Times on August 23 in Washington, D.C. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
J. David Cox, the American Federation of Government Employees’ new national president, on Thursday pledged to lobby President Obama and Congress to make next year’s pay raise — if it is approved in April or later — retroactive to January 2013.
Cox was angered by Obama’s Tuesday decision to extend the pay freeze — now in its second year — until Congress passes an official fiscal 2013 budget. That 0.5 percent raise would take effect at the time of the budget’s passage, Obama said, and would not be retroactive to the beginning of the year.
This means next year’s pay raise would not take effect until April at the earliest, since Congress is expected in September to approve a continuing resolution to keep the government running at about 2012 spending levels until April.
But Congress’ track record on approving budgets in recent years has been abysmal — for example, the entire government except for the Defense Department operated on a continuing resolution through all of fiscal 2011. So it is conceivable that federal employees’ 2013 raise could be delayed even further — or denied entirely if Congress can’t settle on a budget.
In an interview with Federal Times, Cox said delaying feds’ raises is unacceptable, and whittles even further an already historically low raise.
“You’ve taken a half-percent and cut it to a quarter of a percent” if it takes effect halfway through 2013, Cox said. “That is no money. [Employees’] health insurance has gone up. I don’t need to tell anyone about the price of gasoline. How are you going to recruit the best and brightest to the federal government?”
Cox said he will try to convince Obama and lawmakers to forgo the pay freeze extension entirely, but said making the raise retroactive and later reimbursing employees is another strategy he will try.
“That’s not an uncommon practice in the federal government,” Cox said.
But trying for anything more — especially with the House in the hands of Republicans who are eager to cut the deficit and already feel federal employees are overcompensated — may not be possible, he said.
“Let’s be real about the chances of moving something through the House of Representatives right now,” Cox said. “You have to know which battles to fight and which are a lost cause. I’m not a fool that I don’t understand, sometimes these are uphill battles. But that doesn’t mean AFGE will not fight that battle. We will fight every round.”
Despite his displeasure with Obama’s pay freeze extension, Cox said re-electing Obama — as well as other lawmakers friendly to federal employees — is AFGE’s top priority. Although AFGE disagrees with the pay freeze and Obama’s proposal to increase federal employees’ retirement contributions by 1.2 percentage points, Cox said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would be worse.
“I believe that [Romney] would totally decimate the federal government,” Cox said.