Last month, union boss Everett Kelley, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, sent out a self-congratulatory memo to all of his members celebrating the election of Joe Biden and the return of Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. But rather than just taking a victory lap, he cautioned union members to not “pat ourselves on the back” because “windows of opportunity rarely stay open for long.” He warned them that there may be only two years to undo the “damage” (translation: ‘progress’) that Donald Trump made in curbing abusive union practices in the federal government.
It looks like the AFGE has gotten their message through to the White House and Democrats in Congress. Tucked into the COVID relief bill currently being jammed through the legislative process are some huge perks for federal workers. One of the more eye-popping ones is a provision mandating fifteen weeks (!) of automatic paid leave above and beyond the normal, generous amounts of paid time off workers receive, for anyone “affected” by the pandemic. For those without a napkin and a pencil handy to do the math, that works out to nearly a third of the entire working year. (Government Executive)
Senate Democrats on Thursday unveiled their amendments to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which still contains a provision that would provide federal employees with up to 15 weeks of additional paid leave for COVID-related matters…
The additional leave would be available from between when the bill is signed into law and Sept. 30. Gone is a provision in the original House version of the bill but stripped during the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s markup process requiring feds to exhaust all other forms of sick leave before they can tap into the new leave fund. The bill sets aside $570 million to pay for the new benefit.
The leave cannot be used concurrently with any other form of paid leave, and any paid leave provided under this provision would reduce the “total service” used by the federal government to calculate federal retirement benefits.
You could almost… almost… understand if the unions were pushing for a provision allowing paid leave for anyone who is hospitalized with severe COVID symptoms. Of course, even then it would be overly generous. Private sector workers are still expected to use their own sick time (assuming they have that benefit) and then disability payments if they are ill for an extended period of time.
But this goes much further. Federal workers will qualify for the months of paid leave if they even develop symptoms of the novel coronavirus. They also qualify if they are physically fine but are caring for any family member who contracts the disease. The time off can also be used if they experience any negative symptoms after being vaccinated. And to top it all off, even if nobody in their entire household is sick, this paid leave will apply if they are caring for a child whose school or childcare center is “closed or engaging in virtual learning” because of the pandemic.
Oh, and it’s not just direct employees of the federal government getting these goodies. Every worker for the U.S. Postal Service gets them as well.
The original version of the bill at least included a provision saying that workers would need to exhaust all of their own available sick time before tapping into this special fund of more than half a billion dollars. But that clause was stripped out in committee, so now federal employees can begin using the paid time off as soon as the law is signed without using up any of their vacation or sick time.
How is the government justifying this? Hundreds of millions of private-sector workers around the country are not getting anything remotely close to this while their tax dollars are going to pay the wages and benefits of these people. If you or your family members are struck down by COVID, you’re out of work. If you use up your normal vacation days or sick time, that’s it. You’re out of luck and probably out of a job. You might qualify for unemployment (if you’re lucky) but that’s about it. If your child’s school is closed or they have to attend virtual classes from home, making arrangements for child care is your problem. If you’re feeling ill the day after you are vaccinated, you’re going to have to use a sick day if you have any such time available.
We’re dumping well over half a billion dollars to treat federal government employees like they’re some sort of special class of royalty? And the taxpayers are footing the bill for all of this, on top of the already bloated pay and benefits these workers receive as compared to private-sector employees with comparable positions. You can rest assured that it was the unions that twisted the arms of Democrats to provide this golden goose in exchange for their support of Joe Biden and the rest of the Democrats during the last election. And it’s outrageous.