Back Pay for Fired VA Employees and a Pay Freeze Plan in Doubt

Last week, just as Congress prepared to negotiate if federal civilian employees should be provided a 1.9% pay increment; the president introduced an uncertainty to the whole issue.

President Trump suggested that he would study the issue. This came in a day after his fiscal budget plan with a formal proposal to freeze the workers’ pay.

“I’m going to be studying, you know, the federal workers in Washington that you’ve been reading so much about,” he remarked at a ceremony that marked the signing of an executive order on retirement savings. He also added that people don’t want to give federal workers any pay increase. “I’m going to study it over the weekend. It’s a good time to study it (Labor Day). Let’s see how they do next week. But a lot of people were against it,” said the president.
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Most of those who have been against the pay raise are basically employees of the White House and the Office of Management and Budget.

Last Saturday, Trump retweeted the conservative Republican running against Sen. Tim Kain, Corey Stewart. The tweet criticized Trump’s pay freeze plan.

There’s the possibility of a change in the executive branch’s stand on whether or not the compensation for civilian feds adds an additional wrinkle to the ongoing congressional spending negotiations.

A minibus spending package for several agencies has already been approved by the Senate. The package includes a 1.9% pay increase starting next year. This raise is one of several key differences that are to be ironed out by a conference committee later this month.

Last week, Katherine McIntire Peters, the government executive wrote that Trump’s issuance of an alternative pay plan was unusual. This has become a yearly ritual since the Clinton administration. Presidents have taken issue with the methodology behind the automatic pay increment as calculated under provisions of the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act.

Even though Congress does not agree to add a pay rise for civilian federal workers through the application process, the president could reverse the course of the pay freeze plan unilaterally in December as he issues a final decision on 2019 federal compensation through the President’s Pay Act.

At the moment, some former employees from the Veterans Affairs Department could soon go back to work. This is following a ruling from a third-party arbitrator. The issue at hand is the firing of employees under the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act without giving them a 90-day performance improvement plan. The arbitrator found this as a violation of the existing collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees.

The arbitrator found that the law doesn’t address the issue of performance improvement plans. He also found that department memos that actually do change the performance improvement plan policies cannot supersede the already existing union contracts.

If accepted, it means that employees who were fired without being given a 90-day performance improvement plan will go back to work and receive back pay. The department has a month to challenge the ruling made before the Federal Labor Relations Authority.