President Obama signed legislation Oct. 28 that will allow postal and federal workers who retire under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) to receive credit for sick leave when they retire. The new benefit was included among a number of pay and retirement provisions in a compromise version of the 2010 Defense Authorization bill.
The law includes a provision long sought by the APWU and other organizations representing federal employees, which allows FERS-covered workers to receive a 50 percent credit for unused sick leave until Dec. 31, 2013. Starting on Jan. 1, 2014, they will receive full credit. Employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) already receive credit for sick leave when they retire.
“This is a great accomplishment for APWU and other organizations representing federal employees,” said APWU Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid. “We have always believed sick-leave credit for FERS employees is a matter of basic fairness.”
The FERS sick-leave provision was originally introduced in the House of Representatives as a stand-aone bill by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), but the bill suffered numerous setbacks.
The Defense bill — including the FERS benefit — was passed by the House on June 25, by a vote of 389-22. But a month later an amendment granting the benefit was withdrawn at the insistence of Sen.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 “Until this amendment is withdrawn, I will stay here, or I will have a colleague stay here, and we will talk about how this country is out of control in its spending,” he said.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.”
On Oct. 7, 10 weeks after he withdrew the provision, Akaka was instrumental in getting it through a House-Senate conference committee, Reid said.
The House adopted the Defense Authorization bill — including the FERS sick-leave credit on Oct. 8, and the Senate followed suit on Oct. 22.
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.