Federal employees were mostly spared from proposed cuts to their retirement benefits in 2017. But the National Treasury Employees Union fears the upcoming year could be different. According to a survey of 730 NTEU members, 82% said their biggest fear is pay and benefit cuts.
NTEU National President Tony Reardon echoed their concern. “My major concern is around pay and benefits. Where [federal employees] are faced with more pay freezes and cuts to their retirement benefits and potential increases to their health care, what do any Americans do? They look for different jobs. …All those things add up, to me, to a federal service that one day will no longer be the marvel of the world.”
Among NTEU’s top legislative priorities for 2018 is preventing further cuts to employee pay and benefits. The president’s new FY2019 budget is due next Monday and NTEU fears it will contain similar proposals. Reardon said, “We are demanding that the attacks on federal employees stop. Members of Congress are going after your pay, your pensions, and your retirement. Some want to defend your agencies, remove scientific expertise, or simply abolish your mission altogether.”
Reardon also says that all these proposed benefit cuts are not the promises made to federal employees when they entered the workforce.
NTEU legislative director, Jill Crissman, said the union will keep an eye out for possible cuts to benefits as an offset to higher spending limits. During the last 2 budget deals, Congress set higher federal employee pension contribution rates to offset increases in spending. “There’s been some discussion that it will not be fully offset. Certainly, we’ve seen more of a move in all kinds of spending in that area,” Crissman said.
The union asked for feedback and suggestions from its members on ways agencies could do their work more efficiently. They sent those suggestions to agency managers but only a few, the IRS and Customs and Border Protection included, responded or acknowledged the feedback. “Other than that, I don’t recall that we talked to any others,” Reardon said. “That’s a little bit troubling because as I said to folks, it’s the frontline employees [who] understand how the work gets done. They’re the ones that do the work. They’re the ones who are typically interacting with the public.”
Most, 74%, NTEU members said that insufficient funding is the biggest challenge facing agencies next year. Lack of funding is contributing to employees’ perceptions of their workplace. Close to 82% of members said morale at agencies was poor. These results are in line with 2017’s poll.
“[Energy Department] employees are tired of being a punching bag,” a sustainable coordinator at the agency said in response to the NTEU survey. “Treat us like the white-collar professionals we are, addressing and solving national and energy security issues vital for our economy, our country and the planet.”
NTEU is pushing new legislation that would receive the labor-management forums that President Trump disbanded last year. “You don’t have to call it a labor-management forum. I don’t care what you call it, but there needs to be an opportunity for management to hear from front-line employees,” Reardon said. “I have not seen a lot of differences in that regard. We’ve continued to have a lot of discussions with agencies.”