Blue-collar pay to rise 2.35 percent


WASHINGTON -- Federal blue-collar workers in the Baltimore area will get raises averaging 2.35 percent as part of an effort to close the pay gap between the public and private sectors.

The issue of pay parity has not been nearly as contentious for federal blue-collar workers as for their white-collar counterparts. That's largely because blue-collar workers already get locality pay, which is intended to keep public salaries competitive with the private sector.

But since the late 1970s, the government has routinely capped federal wages, leading to a 7.8 percent pay gap between federal and private sector blue-collar workers -- much smaller than the 30 percent white-collar gap.

The amount of the wage increases for the nation's 336,000 blue-collar federal workers is not yet clear. Ultimately, the size of the increase will depend on where the worker lives and what he or she does.

For Baltimore's 4,500 federal workers, the increase will range from 17 cents an hour for the lowest grade worker to 43 cents for the highest grade worker. The lowest wage will be $9.55 an hour and the highest $16.31.

But even after the increase, Baltimore workers will earn an average of 9.13 percent less an hour than their private sector counterparts, according to private sector wage surveys. The largest discrepancy will remain in Richmond, Va., about 27 percent.

Federal officials say the gap needs to close to make public service attractive.

"We need to match local salaries to compete for workers," said Tony Ingrassia, chairman of the Office of Personnel Management committee which sets federal pay policy.

The raise for blue-collar workers will reduce the gap by about one-fifth, and Mr. Ingrassia said the expectation is that lawmakers will continue to close the gap each year, although legislation for only one year has been passed.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who is on the Appropriations Committee, said it's a struggle in tough budget times to bring federal blue-collar workers up to the prevailing wage rate in their localities.

It is expected that it will take nine years to eliminate the pay gap between white-collar federal workers and their private sector counterparts.

The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 40,000 blue-collar workers said the government has been skirting the intent of locality pay laws.

"The whole point is to pay a comparable rate," said Heather Gillies, a National Federation of Federal Employees spokeswoman.

"If pay doesn't get better, there is little or no incentive to stay," she said.

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