- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Thousands of people who never worked for the government have a shot at up to $30,000 in back pay owed as many as 200,000 individuals who did work for the government between 1982 and 1988.

In fact, as a result of a lawsuit settlement, the non-feds have as good a legal claim on the back pay as do workers many of whom have died over the last two decades who were short-changed by a government policy shift.

Under the terms of a settlement due to be finalized in November, the government will give back pay, with interest, to engineers, scientists, medical personnel and Washington area clerical workers who were short-changed during the 1980s.

The money is intended to make up for raises denied the so-called special rate employees who, because of their jobs, were paid more than other civil servants in the same grade levels. But because the case has dragged on for so long, many of the people who are due the back pay have died.

Earlier this month, the government sent notices to 212,000 workers who are part of the class-action lawsuit. The notices didn't say if they would get money, or how much (or when), but it did inform them that they were in special rate jobs during the period in question and may be due back pay.

Part of the settlement agreement between the government and the National Treasury Employees Union is that individuals who are owed money but who have died will have that money paid to their estates. That's where the nonf-eds come in.

Anyone who received or is due money from the estate of a special-rater who qualifies for a back payment will be eligible to receive the payments. Those people could be widows, widowers, children, parents or others who were beneficiaries of the deceased feds.

The next step in the long-running back pay cases isn't expected to come until November, when the U.S. Court of Appeals here is expected to OK the formula worked out between the government and the NTEU. Both the courts and the union have said they don't want and can't handle mail or phone calls from people hoping to collect. But they have set up a telephone hot line you can call for general information about the special rate case. That number is 800-750-3406.

You can also track the history and current status of the back pay case at the union's Web site (www.nteu.org).

Premium assistance

If any piece of civil service-related legislation passes this year, it could be the plan to give federal and postal retirees the option to cut their tax bill by paying their health insurance premiums with pret-ax dollars.

The so-called "premium conversion" benefit is available to many private sector workers, but not to retirees. President Clinton extended the perk to federal workers by executive order. But he couldn't do it for retirees because that requires a change in tax law that only Congress can make.

Insiders hope to tuck language into an appropriations bill (or other noncontroversial or must-pass legislation) toward the end of this session.

If approved, it would reduce the typical retired fed's tax bill by reducing his or her taxable income by $200 to $400 per year. That would come in handy since retirees are looking at a minimal (1 percent) cost-of-living adjustment next January, just as health premiums for workers and retirees are expected to go up.

Customs upgrade

Customs Service inspectors and canine enforcement personnel who sniff out tons of illegal and explosive items each year are due for a pay raise. Customs says it will raise their grade levels from GS 9 to GS 11 next month. That increase will be worth nearly $10,000 per year to about 2,600 employees whose jobs are often dirty and dangerous.

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