FERS Sick-Leave Credit Included In Defense Authorization Bill

October 9, 2009

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The campaign to win sick-leave credit for workers who retire under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) got a big boost this week when it was included in a compromise version of the 2010 Defense Authorization bill. Employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) already enjoy the benefit.

The bill was approved in a House-Senate conference on Oct. 7, and approved by the House on Oct. 8. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon.

The legislation includes a provision long-sought by the APWU and other organizations representing federal employees. Under the Defense bill, the provision would allow FERS-covered workers to receive a 50 percent credit for unused sick leave until Dec. 31, 2013. Starting on Jan. 1, 2014, they would receive full credit.

“We are extremely pleased by these developments,” said APWU President William Burrus. “We have taken a major step closer to an important goal.”

APWU Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid also praised the vote. “For years we have said that is a matter of basic fairness.”

The original legislation was written by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), who echoed the call for fairness and said that the measure also provided a financial incentive, because employees covered by the provision would avoid taking unnecessary time off toward the end of their careers.

The Defense bill — including the FERS benefit — was passed by the House on June 25, by a vote of 389-22. But the campaign for the sick-leave credit was dealt a setback a month later when an amendment granting the benefit was withdrawn at the insistence of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who threatened to filibuster. “Until this amendment is withdrawn, I will stay here, or I will have a colleague stay here, and we will talk about how this country is out of control in its spending,” he said. “We’ve institutionalized sick leave. We’ve made it an entitlement.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the main sponsor of the amendment, agreed to withdraw it, but continued to defend the provision, saying, “This amendment will ensure that all federal employees are treated the same.” Ten weeks after he withdrew the provision, Akaka was instrumental in getting it through conference, Reid said.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, (D-NY), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee, were also key to the effort to convince conferees to include the sick-leave credit and other workforce provisions.

The compromise legislation also includes a provision that would make it easier for federal agencies, including the Postal Service, to rehire retirees (for a limited time) without forcing them to take a cut in their annuity checks. “This provision will help eliminate the USPS objections to APWU’s efforts to return postal retirees to employment,” Burrus said. “If the bill is passed, the union will renew our discussion with management on this issue.”

The bill also includes:

  • A provision that would allow employees who choose to work part-time toward the end of their careers to use a higher salary figure in calculations for how the reduced work factors into their retirement benefits. 
  • A provision that would move workers in Hawaii, Alaska, the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories from cost-of-living adjustments to a locality-pay system. [The territorial COLAs, as they are known, would be applied differently to postal employees than to other federal workers. The T-COLAs would not be taxed and would not be credited towards retirement; for other federal employees these earnings would be taxed and would be credited toward retirement.]
  • A provision that would allow FERS employees who left and then returned to government service to redeposit savings in the retirement system and earn credit for years they had previously worked.

[Updated 10/13/09]

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