Washington D.C. – The best way to revitalize the federal workforce is through fair pay and benefits, protecting collective bargaining rights, ensuring adequate health and safety protocols at the workplace, and giving employees the tools and resources they need to do their job, according to testimony Tuesday from NTEU National President Tony Reardon.
“A merit-based, non-partisan civil service is the backbone of our federal government,” Reardon wrote. “It is imperative that our career civil servants who are charged with implementing complex federal programs on behalf of the American people can continue to do their work with dedication and skill, regardless of changes in elected leadership.”
Reardon’s written testimony was submitted to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, which conducted a hearing Tuesday on how to revitalize the federal workforce.
Citing several years of below-market raises and pay freezes, Reardon endorsed the FAIR Act of 2021, which would give federal employees an average 3.2 percent adjustment in 2022 and help make the federal government more competitive with the higher salaries in the private sector. He also urged Congress to resist calls to scrap the General Schedule pay system or require federal employees to pay more for their retirement without increased benefits. In the last decade, Congress has twice raised employee contributions to the federal retirement system, cutting their take home pay and contributing $21 billion to deficit reduction.
Reardon also endorsed the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act which would expand the current paid parental leave program into a more robust family leave program for federal employees protecting workers who are dealing with critical illness themselves or with an immediate family member. The program would be comparable to those offered at many private corporations, and be one more tool for the government to recruit and retain valuable employees.
“Few employees can go weeks without pay and no one should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one and a paycheck,” Reardon wrote.
In his testimony, Reardon applauded President Biden’s administration for rescinding multiple executive orders used by the previous administration to attack federal employees and their unions. They have been replaced by orders to respect the contributions of frontline workers and to bargain with their representatives in good faith, all of which helps federal workers feel their work is valued by their agency leaders.
Reardon endorsed legislation to prevent future attempts to weaken the merit system principles; to protect scientific integrity; and to reestablish the National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations.
“Imposing anti-worker policies that eliminate fair and equitable treatment and instead create a culture of fear and mistrust is no way to attract and retain talented workers,” Reardon wrote.
Reardon also dedicated a big part of his testimony to COVID-19 and the ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety of federal employees and their families around the country, including maximum telework policies, testing and vaccines for employees, and adjusting schedules and workspaces to allow for adequate social distancing. NTEU also supports legislation to extend emergency paid leave for federal workers who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.
“With the number of infected Americans continuing to rise, it is understandable that many federal employees have expressed a significant amount of anxiety and fear about their ability to return to work safely. Ensuring agencies have the tools and resources to permit telework, provide safe and clean worksites, and are able to ensure social distancing is essential to protecting federal workers and assuring employees that their employer cares about their wellbeing,” Reardon said.
Finally, Reardon said federal agencies should move quickly to fill vacancies by using existing hiring flexibilities, without expanding or abusing programs that allow for noncompetitive hiring or eliminating basic employee rights and protections.
NTEU represents employees in 34 federal agencies and offices.