WASHINGTON -- Federal employees can continue to collect money for speeches and articles that are unrelated to their work, according to a federal court ruling.
U.S. appellate court judges in the District of Columbia maintained yesterday that when lawmakers restricted their own ability to receive honoraria from private organizations, they unconstitutionally imposed a ban on federal workers' rights to receive those fees.
Federal employee unions hailed the decision, which follows the Justice Department's appeal of the judges' earlier decision to lift the honoraria ban.
"We would hope that this decision would finally put an end to an unconstitutional ban that should have never been put into effect in the first place," said John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Workers who gave talks on gardening or wrote articles for software newsletters could not receive compensation for these efforts, even when they have no bearing on their on-the-job responsibilities, one union official explained.
Health care address
Federal employee union officials will be listening carefully tonight to President Clinton's nationally televised health care address to hear how employee benefits will change.
The White House has hinted its intention to add federal employees into state-organized health care alliances, mixing public and private sector employees in the same system.
Little is known about how such a merger will affect the benefits each employee receives, although the Clinton administration plans to decrease an employee's premium contribution from 28 percent to 20 percent.
The National Association of Retired Federal Employees, whose members watch shifts in the benefit package carefully, does not know what to make of such a reform, which would essentially wipe out the current Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.
"We're dealing with too many unknowns," said Judy Park, legislative director for NARFE. "There's always this fear of the unknown, and when it comes to health care that fear is particularly intensified."
Nearly 10 million workers are covered under the federal program, whose dollars would provide a sizable base for a broader pool that would include the uninsured.
"We do not wish to be part of some national experiment," said Robert Keener, who heads the National Federation of Federal Employees. Keener feared that adding more citizens who do not have employers paying into it will dilute the quality of benefits federal workers receive.
Regardless, the decision to end the current federal worker benefits program will take much longer than a single speech. Indeed, some congressional subcommittees that oversee government employee benefits will be unwilling to give up their control of such a huge chunk of federal money to the states, said Park.