Temporary worker's death puts focus on benefits


WASHINGTON -- Since James Hudson, a 43-year-old National Park Service worker, succumbed to a heart attack in the heat last month, mourners and strangers have worked to solve the problem of temporary hires who work for years without the health and life insurance benefits other federal employees get.

Tomorrow, Mr. Hudson's widow, Marlene, will receive an $80,000 check from the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, a nonprofit group that aids government workers. District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton will conduct a hearing on her legislation to make federal benefits available to workers with temporary status.

Mr. Hudson died while on duty at the Lincoln Memorial, where he cleaned the statue of the seated president each morning and worked overtime during the busy July 4 weekend before his death. The House of Representatives voted July 15 to bestow a $38,400 lump-sum payment on his widow and seven children to compensate for the benefits he was not allowed to accrue in eight years of "temporary" employment.

"The life of James Hudson and the plight of the Hudson family had seized the imagination and touched the hearts of members," said Ms. Norton, describing outpouring of support on the House floor for the payment.

"Not every temporary employee can be as devoted as Mr. Hudson," she added. "However, every federal employee deserves better than James Hudson got for his eight years of service."

In addition to the congressional payment, the assistance fund collected cash for the Hudsons from all over the country. The donations ranged from $1 individual contributions to a $5,000 corporate gift from a bank.

The proposed James Hudson Temporary Employee Equity Act would give access to benefits to 150,000 temporary hires on federal payrolls. Such employment is supposed to last a year. After six months, an employee would be able to buy into a benefit package. If the employee worked a total of four years in various short-term posts, he or she would be entitled to full benefits, if Ms. Norton's bill becomes law.

The bill includes a provision that would keep the government from arbitrarily ending a temporary worker's employment just before the benefits would kick in. Also, all past, present and future temporary employees would be eligible for the entitlement.

In addition, under the bill an agency or department would have to deem a position permanent after it had been filled by a temporary worker for two years or more.

The House compensation and employee benefits subcommittee will vote on the bill immediately after tomorrow's hearing.

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund's address is: FEEA, Suite 200, 8441 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, Colo. 80123.

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