Friedman Earns Lifetime Achievement Award

Howard Friedman, President of the Trademark Society, NTEU Chapter 25 at the PTO, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Federal Labor & Employee Relations Professionals. From left to right, SFLERP Second Vice-President Michael Fischetti, Mr. Friedman, and FirstVice-President May Silverstein.

At the 44th annual Symposium of the Society of Federal Labor & Employee Relations Professionals (SFLERP), the Board of Directors presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Howard Friedman. The award recognizes a member of the Society whose career exemplifies an outstanding degree of professionalism, high ethical standards, and an unquestionable dedication to the work of the Society. Howard Friedman is President of The Trademark Society, National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 245. The Trademark Society represents the attorneys in the Trademark operation at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Mr. Friedman has served on the SFLERP Board of Directors as First and Second Vice-President and as President and continues to serve as an ex-officio member. He has presented at numerous SFLERP Symposia, at our regional training, and at the annual LR-ER training presented in the fall.

Sequester Funding Cuts Limit Recruitment and Retention Efforts

Washington, D.C.—Federal agencies find it hard to recruit and retain talented employees because they don’t get enough funding from Congress, the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) told a Senate panel today.

The General Schedule (GS) allows agencies to offer performance awards, bonuses, merit raises and use other tools to hire and keep talented workers, NTEU National President Tony Reardon told the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“We do not believe the problem is the GS system, but the lack of agency use of existing pay flexibilities. Agencies must receive proper levels of funding to be able to use these flexibilities, or they merely exist on paper,” President Reardon said.

Reardon urged Congress to focus on closing the gap between federal and private-sector pay and on giving federal agencies the funding they need to fulfill their missions.

After freezing federal pay in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Congress approved raises of 1 percent for each of the next two years—well below the amounts called for under the law, Reardon said. He pointed to Department of Labor data showing that private-sector wages have risen by 8.3 percent in the last five years while federal pay has gone up by 2 percent.

Reardon advocated for pay legislation sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), which would give federal employees an across-the-board raise of 3.8 percent in 2016.

“No employer can expect to recruit and retain a professional and skilled workforce while failing to keep up with general pay trends,” Reardon said. “It is simply a myth that the GS system does not allow agencies to reward high performance or respond to a changing recruitment and retention environment, but these … pay tools are just not being used enough. And the primary reason for that is a lack of funding.”

Reardon applauded Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for her efforts on behalf of the federal workforce, including her work to narrow the federal-private pay gap that has grown wider in recent years due to the oil and natural gas boom in her state. Among the federal employees affected are NTEU-represented Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel.

The NTEU leader thanked Heitkamp and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) for their attention to CBP issues on the Northern Border, a remote region where recruiting and retaining workers is often challenging. About 300 front-line CBP personnel work in an area stretching from Pembina to Portal along North Dakota’s border with Canada. Some of NTEU’s CBP members recently met with Sen. Tester in Sweetgrass, Mont.

“We greatly appreciate your willingness to explore with us ways to make pay in these regions more competitive, including the potential use of either special pay rates or recruitment and retention bonuses,” President Reardon said.

NTEU to House Members: Vote No on H.R. 692

Washington, D.C.—The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) urged House members today to reject H.R. 692, a bill to prioritize payments during a default.

In a letter, NTEU National President Tony Reardon wrote: “This bill tries to lull the country into believing that if we reach the debt limit ceiling and cannot pay our bills, we somehow prevent default by agreeing to pay only our bondholders and our Social Security recipients.”

The House should reject the bill because it “orders the government to pay our holders of public debt (mostly the Chinese) before our military, our scientists, and our federal employees, instead of spending time passing a new debt limit ceiling,” according to President Reardon.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), H.R. 692 could come up for a vote on the House floor today.

Reardon urged lawmakers to raise the debt limit ceiling quickly so the government can repay “the debts Congress has already incurred.”

“If Congress does not act to pass a new debt limit ceiling by November 3rd and the federal government defaults, it is unclear if federal employees will be allowed to continue doing their jobs,” 
President Reardon wrote. “If they are allowed to continue to work, it is unclear when they would be paid. Prioritizing who gets paid first may mean that federal employee pay is far down on the list of bills to be paid.”

NTEU Fights for Retirees Facing Higher Medicare Part B Premiums

Washington, D.C.—The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) urged Congress to quickly pass legislation that would protect 16 million retirees from sharply higher premiums for Medicare Part B coverage next year.

According to this year’s Medicare Trustees Report, enrollee premiums for Medicare Part B—a federal program that pays for doctor services, outpatient care, and some home health care—are projected to increase by more than 50 percent next year.

However, about 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries who get Part B premiums deducted automatically from their monthly Social Security checks won’t have to pay those higher premiums because they are covered by the “hold harmless rule” in federal law.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said that the remaining 30 percent—or about 16 million retirees, including many who retired from federal service—are likely to see their monthly Part B premiums surge from $104.90 a month to about $159.30 a month.

“That will be a financial gut punch for these retirees. The majority of them are living on fixed incomes and can’t afford this,” Reardon said. “I’m issuing an urgent appeal to Congress to prevent this huge premium increase from going into effect.”

NTEU has sent letters to Capitol Hill supporting S. 2148, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and H.R. 3696, introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.). Both bills would block the premium increases.

The hold harmless rule says Social Security payments can’t be reduced from one year to the next because of cost increases in Medicare Part B. Social Security payments are not expected to increase next year because cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) are unlikely.

Though Medicare Part B premiums are projected to skyrocket, the majority of Social Security recipients won’t feel the pinch thanks to the hold harmless rule. Individuals who have their Medicare premiums deducted directly from their Social Security checks will not experience any increase in Medicare Part B premium payments.

The 16 million retirees excluded from the rule includes about 1.6 million people who retired under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and therefore have little or no Social Security income. Retired federal workers enrolled in Medicare but not in Social Security and newer federal retirees who will be signing up for Medicare next year will also be affected.

“It’s absolutely unfair to force these 16 million retirees to pay these dramatically higher premiums,” President Reardon said. “NTEU is committed to doing all it can to protect seniors from escalating and unaffordable Medicare costs in 2016.”

NTEU has written to the administration, urging a quick fix to this problem, and has also joined about 70 other organizations to press Congress to act quickly.

Beyond the Survey: Agencies Should Press for Meaningful Change

Washington, D.C.— Results of the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) again demonstrate the high levels of commitment federal employees have to their jobs, but survey data fail to capture the tumultuous times federal workers have been facing.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the early results last week and more detailed results this week.

As in previous years, the FEVS demonstrated that the vast majority (90 percent of more) of federal employees have superior levels of commitment to their work, consistently seek out ways to do the work better and are willing to go the extra mile.

“There is no question about the dedication of federal employees to their jobs, but there is a huge question mark about the commitment of Congress to the workers who deliver the vital services our country relies on,” said President Tony Reardon, “Federal employees continue to endure chronic funding cuts, threats of sequestration, inadequate pay raises and attacks on federal retirement and health benefits. Those frustrations are not really addressed in a survey of this nature, but are integral to employee morale and satisfaction.”

This year’s FEVS was conducted before new threats by Congress to shut down the government emerged, Reardon pointed out.

Among NTEU-represented agencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Credit Union Administration stayed among the top 10 in their group. The Department of Homeland Security continued its hold as one of the lowest-scoring agencies.

The NTEU president urged agency leadership not to get bogged down in the data and rankings, but to work with employee representatives to tackle the issues employee care most about such as workload, training and fair treatment.

“In each agency where NTEU represents employees, there are concrete issues that we can point to that would make a meaningful difference to employee engagement and satisfaction,” said NTEU President Tony Reardon. “NTEU will press agencies to look beyond the scores and listen to the voices of employees about how to make the workplace better.”

“Frankly, I am worried about the wear and tear on dedicated employees as we lurch from one needless budget crisis to another. I’m concerned about federal employees once again being looked to for further sacrifices to resolve budget disputes when they have already contributed over $159 billion in cuts,” Reardon said. “I’m concerned continued shutdown threats and cuts to pay or benefits will lead talented, experienced workers to leave the government in search of a more stable work environment where their efforts are appreciated.”

OPM Data Breach — What you should do

1. Monitor your credit report. Look for accounts or charges you don’t recognize. Even if the breach didn’t involve credit card information, thieves may use your Social Security number, address and date of birth to open accounts in your name.

2, Take advantage of OPM’s offer of credit report access, credit monitoring, and identity theft insurance and recovery services to potentially affected individuals.

3. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. With a fraud alert, businesses must verify your identity before providing new credit. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it.

Get next steps and more on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.