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Pay freeze, furloughs hurt employees and nation

Mar. 17, 2013 - 01:51PM   |  
By BRUCE MOYER   |   Comments

If America’s federal employees and postal workers are the tires on a car, Congress has paved a very rocky road for them to navigate.

At all levels of government these workers help to ensure the safety of food we eat, the car seats that cradle our kids, and the landings of the planes we fly. They preserve national parks for adventuresome Americans and deliver medicine and benefits to wounded warriors returning from war.

Despite all of the good our nation’s public servants do for every American citizen every day, some congressional lawmakers consistently stand in the way.

We are fortunate to have the greatest workforce in world history showing up at their desks, their border patrol stations, even at our mailboxes, day in and day out to serve us. These can be tough and thankless jobs at times. Nonetheless, that’s generally OK with the loyal, dedicated federal and postal workers.

I don’t agree with congressional opponents of federal and postal workers about much, but we agree on one thing: The pay of our nation’s federal sector should be on par with the private sector.

Given this shared sentiment, where is the logic in freezing the pay of America’s middle-class federal workers for a third (and in some proposals, a fourth) year in a row?

Are private-sector wages being frozen? No.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that private-sector wages and salaries increased 1.7 percent in 2012 and 1.4 percent in 2011.

So it seems that federal employee opponents face a double standard when it comes to fair compensation and comparisons with the private sector, especially when you consider that the singled-out sacrifice of federal worker pay and benefits has seen a 0 percent increase.

Additional significant sacrifice by federal employees will occur again by the extension of the federal pay freeze for a third year through the end of 2013.

Effective government performance requires Congress and the president to embrace solutions that deal with our larger fiscal problems and that do not achieve savings only through furloughs and cuts in the pay and benefits of federal and postal employees.

Over the next several weeks, federal employees will begin to feel the shocks of sequestration as they ripple across the government. Many employees have already been handed furlough notices, while others are anxiously awaiting similar fates. Some federal employees could face up to a 20 percent pay cut.

Meanwhile, next month, the American public will begin to feel the impact of these budget cuts. The scary face of sequestration will become more recognizable to Americans as budget cuts are felt in the forms of flight delays, waits at border crossings and private-sector job losses.

Recent proposals to increase the amounts that federal and postal employees pay for their retirement benefits, and changing those benefits themselves, will hurt employees personally and harm good government broadly.

Federal employees in every community and congressional district in America have already sacrificed more than $100 billion of their paychecks toward government operations and deficit reduction.

Looking ahead, further personal sacrifice by federal employees will only increase in the coming weeks as sequestration and furloughs take effect.

If the pace of economic recovery begins to slow this spring, if we risk falling back into a recession, it will be because of the sequester.

Sequestration is not merely bad public policy, it is the wrong prescription for a fragile economy.

A recent survey by the National Treasury Employees Union showed that 82 percent of federal employee respondents felt that sequestration-imposed furloughs “would make it difficult for them to pay for housing, food and utilities.”

We need to find some alternative to spare our country as a whole; it’s time that Congress does its job and arrives at sensible solutions that continue to assure a high-performing, fairly compensated federal workforce and the uninterrupted delivery of service to the American people.

Bruce Moyer is chair of the Federal-Postal Coalition, an alliance of 30 organizations representing 5 million federal and postal employees and retirees.

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