Fed groups: Pay and benefits should be off the table in budget talks

Friday - 11/8/2013, 10:24am EST

A coalition of more than two dozen federal-employee unions and advocacy groups is calling on budget negotiators to come up with a way to undo the across-the-board sequestration budget cuts that are poised to slash agency spending by billions more this year.

But following the three-year pay freeze and the recent 16-day government shutdown, the groups are equally adamant that changes to federal employees' pay and benefits should be off the table.

"We are unwaveringly opposed to further sacrifices from federal employees to undo the congressionally-created crisis of sequestration," stated a letter from the Federal-Postal Coalition sent this week. "Cutting federal employee pay through increased retirement contributions must not be a topic for further discussion to resolve these crises. The federal community has given its fair share already."

The coalition is made up of 31 groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Treasury Employees Unions.

Budget negotiators on the 29-member House-Senate conference committee haven't yet publicly discussed specifics. But federal groups told Federal News Radio soon after the committee met for the first time last week that they expect some lawmakers to target federal pay and benefits, such as requiring federal workers to contribute more toward their retirement or changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for retirees.

For example, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the co-chairman of the committee, has pushed for federal employees to contribute more of their pay toward their pensions — from 0.8 percent currently for workers in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) to 6.3 percent. That would save $132 billion over the next 10 years, Ryan says.

'Enough is enough,' group says

Federal employees have already contributed a total of $114 billion over the next decade to deficit-reduction efforts, federal-employee groups contend — $99 billion from the three-year freeze on federal pay and another $15 billion from a bill passed by Congress last year requiring new federal hires to contribute 2.3 percent more of their pay toward their pensions.

"This does not include the loss in paychecks from furloughs as a result of the 2013 sequester," the coalition's letter stated. "Many worked unfalteringly for weeks without guaranteed, timely pay due to the government shutdown. They shouldn't be continually persecuted while they are trying to do their jobs to serve and protect U.S. citizens. Enough is enough."

But as the committee works to come up with alternative cuts to the sequester reductions, federal groups say doing nothing on sequestration is not an option either.

Colleen Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, wrote in a separate letter to the committee that sequestration has starved agencies of the funding they need to accomplish their missions and led to unpaid furlough days for thousands of employees.

"The $85 billion in sequester cuts meant that most agencies had to implement hiring freezes, slash training and pare back on services to taxpayers. ... If sequestration funding levels remain in place it is likely that more unpaid furlough days and resulting loss of services will occur in 2014 and beyond," Kelley wrote in the letter.

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