Bill Favoring Fed Retirees Opposed by Unions

A Senate bill would give federal retirees the ability to collect their annuity and also a federal salary if they return to work.

The federal “retirement tsunami” has been making news for some time. The theory is that all those federal employees hired about 30 years ago are going to decide to walk out the door in the near future and take their expertise and institutional memory out the door as well.

In addition to to the impending loss of tens of thousands of these federal baby boomers, the Obama administration is considering hiring up to another 600,000 or so new federal employees. That is an easy promise to make. Hopefully, the hiring process doesn’t mean that anyone able to walk into a federal office will be hired automatically. In fact, the federal hiring process is perhaps the weakest link in this chain of events as getting a federal job is highly desirable but can take months, extraordinary energy and patience on the part of the applicant, and does not necessarily result in hiring the best people to work for Uncle Sam.

So, with this confluence of events, perhaps it makes sense to bring back to work some people hired by the government before, who worked for the federal government for years, and then retired. Some former federal employees have undoubtedly found that their retirement annuity does not go as far as they hoped and they would like to come back to work and bring in some extra money. If they want to return to work, why not provide an incentive for them to leave the beach or the mountains, put on their work clothes and become an active federal employee once again?  The (former) retiree makes more money and the government gets its work done quicker and easier.

Bill to Allow Rehiring of Former Feds

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) thinks this is a good idea. And a bill in the Senate entitled the “Part-Time Reemployment of Annuitants Act of 2009” (S. 629) would allow federal agencies to re-employ federal retirees on a limited, part-time basis without an offset of their annuity from salary. In other words, a retired federal employee could collect his retirement annuity and a federal salary at the same time.

NARFE president Margaret Baptiste says in a press release this Senate bill makes sense “because it would enable federal retirees to continue to make critical contributions to our safety and well-being during this time of national need….While workers deserve their hard-earned retirement, the federal government needs their talents once again, at a time of compelling need. These men and women should not be penalized for returning to federal service, particularly when they are needed to respond to the unparalleled economic upheaval, homeland security and military and foreign policy challenges we face.”

Federal Unions Oppose Bill

So, what is the problem making the passage of this bill difficult?

The problem is that federal employee unions don’t like it. Many in Congress are therefore hesitant to support a bill because they like getting the support of federal employee unions during an election.

But, if the bill helps former federal employees, why would unions oppose it? The answer is obvious: Retired federal employees are not in a bargaining unit represented by federal employee unions.

Retired federal employees may not become members if they come back to work. An AFGE spokesperson summarized their opposition as follows: “Managers would have complete discretion to hire annuitants of their choice, without any regard to veterans preference, or any objective, competitive criteria.” In other words, the federal employee unions are looking out for their current members and not too concerned about the concerns of federal retirees.

To try and quell some of the opposition, the Senate bill puts restrictions on the hiring of these former feds. The bill prohibits waiving restricting annuities and pay upon reemployment for more than:

  1. 520 hours of service performed during the six months following the individual’s annuity commencing date;
  2. 1040 hours of service performed during any 12-month period; or
  3. a total of 3120 hours of service performed by that annuitant.

The bill also limits the total number of annuitants to whom a waiver by the head of an agency may apply to not more than 2.5% of the total number of full-time agency employees and requires an agency head to submit a justification if the number of annuitants to whom a waiver applies exceeds 1% of the number of employees.

On May 20th, the bill was approved Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. If the bill is successful, or appears likely to pass, we will let our readers know.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47