NTEU decries proposed cuts to workers comp

Thursday - 1/26/2012, 9:35pm EST

The National Treasury Employees Union has denounced a Senate postal reform bill because it would also reduce benefits under the federal workers' compensation program.

In a letter to senators, NTEU President Colleen Kelley, said the union, one of the largest for federal employees, would urge a no vote on the larger Postal reform bill unless changes are made.

"A postal reform bill is no place to reduce the benefits for all federal employees who were injured on the job and through no fault of their own," Kelley wrote.

The "21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011," was one of several bills introduced in the fall designed to stabilize the Postal Service's uncertain finances. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Committee overhwhelmingly approved the legislation, including provisions that would scale back benefits under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.

FECA pays federal employees who become disabled on the job 66.7 percent of their salaries along with their medical bills. Employees with dependents receive 75 percent of their salaries.

The FECA portions of the postal bill — largely the brainchild of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) who introduced stand-alone reforms earlier last year — would convert employees from FECA into the federal retirement system once they reach Social Security age.

The bill would also reduce the rate of compensation to 66.7 percent, regardless of dependents.

"The proposed legislation would impose a substantial and unfair income reduction for federal employee who simply came to work one day ready to serve their country but tragically suffered an injury that took away their ability to ever work again," Kelley wrote in the letter to lawmakers.

Kelley likened the switch from FECA to federal retirement as punishing federal workers "just for becoming elderly."

Workers' comp changes, including Collins' proposals, were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing last summer.

The Labor Department has sought to create a uniform level of compensation — 70 percent — citing concerns that the current rate may be a disincentive for employees to return to work.

However, federal advocacy groups, contend the proposals are unfair. Converting employees under FECA to the federal retirement system could be particularly damaging, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association argued, because disabled employees covered by the program cannot contribute to their Thrift Savings Plan.

In November, the House approved a FECA-related bill that would expand benefits, allow physician assistants to treat traumatic injuries and streamline the claims process.

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