You've got your WIG to keep you warm

Thursday - 9/13/2012, 2:00am EDT

Despite the fact that feds are heading toward their third year without a pay raise, many nonpostal employees — anywhere from one-third to one-half — are earning more than they did when the White House froze 2011/2012 federal salaries at 2010 levels. Lots of workers managed to move up the 10-step pay ladder either because they got promotions or, more likely, qualified for a WIG.

The longevity step increases, or WIGs (within-grade) raises are set by law. Depending on their satisfactory length of service, workers in the first three steps of their raise generally get a 3 percent raise each year. Those in the next three get raises every 2 years, and those in steps 7, 8 and 9 get them every three years.

The WIG-driven pay raises are a good thing because federal health premiums — to be announced soon — are not going down in 2013. For many feds, even a modest increase in premiums will represent the biggest bite in their 2013 paychecks.

The six-month continuing resolution Congress is expected to okay this week includes an extension of the pay freeze at least through March of next year. President Barack Obama had proposed a 0.5 percent increase, contingent on Congress approving budgets. But...

Thanks to longevity pay increases — which haven't been tackled by Congress or the White House — federal workers who satisfactorily complete one, two or three years in their pay grade automatically get a 3 percent adjustment regardless of the freeze. Workers in the first three steps of their GS grade get the WIG (within-grade raise) every year.

Although pay is frozen at 2010 levels, workers who get promotions or a step increase can continue to move up the ladder. In the metro Washington, D.C., area, for example, a GS-11, step one employee earns $62,467. At step five of that grade the salary is $70,794 and a move up to the tenth, and top, step of the grade is worth $81,204.

The Carter administration made an attempt to eliminate automatic WIGs or make it tougher to qualify for them. But that effort soon fizzled and the raises have largely remained under the radar scope of subsequent administrations and congressional budget cutters.

Meantime, the two largest nonpostal federal unions — the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union — have made a 2013 pay raise a top priority. J. David Cox, the new president of the AFGE and long-time NTEU leader Colleen Kelley say they will press Congress and the White House to OK a pay raise retroactive to January 2013.


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