End of School Year Update on Major Issues
TO: FEA Members Worldwide
FROM: FEA Washington DC Office
RE: End of Year Update on Major Issues
DATE: June 18, 2018
The 2017-2018 school year began quietly, but it soon became apparent that the anti-employee, anti-union decision makers in DoDEA and in the Trump administration were intent upon making their presence known now that they have the reigns of power.
DoDEA employees and FEA members have been under attack from all sides for the past several months and, unfortunately, we can only expect the attacks to escalate in the years ahead as those who have a clear dislike for public education, federal workers and (in particular) empowered employees become increasingly entrenched in DoDEA and in the federal bureaucracy, including courts of law.
Despite these ongoing challenges, FEA pledges to absorb and deflect as many harmful blows as possible from our members so you can (as much as possible, given this atmosphere) continue to concentrate on your vital mission of educating military dependents. We wish those who are constantly attacking federal workers would realize these attacks only hurt the environment in which the work is done. In the case of DoDEA, that means the environment for student learning suffers.
As you begin your much-needed summer break, the FEA Legal staff wants to make sure everyone is up to speed on some of the issues being worked on and to encourage everyone to monitor the FEA web site (feaonline.org), to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and to check your personal email accounts for updates, information and requests we will be sending periodically. And, of course, we also want to wish everyone a very safe, restful and relaxing summer break.
RAT TRAVEL PROBLEMS
We know some members are still having problems with their RAT orders for summer travel. The situation is made worse by the fact that most school-level employees will no longer have access to their DoDEA e-mail accounts once the school year concludes on Friday, making it even harder to communicate with DoDEA personnel to resolve issues.
If you are among those employees who have yet to receive your RAT orders, or your RAT orders will need to be amended or revised, FEA advises you to send a message to Susan Watson at DoDEA Headquarters for assistance with your orders after school closes. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In your message to Susan, explain your situation regarding difficulties obtaining or amending RAT orders and be sure to include your PERSONAL (non DoDEA) e-mail address so that Susan can write back to you at an e-mail you'll be able to access. In fact, it would be advisable for you to write to Susan using your personal e-mail address, or to at least copy your personal e-mail on the message to Susan so she can respond directly to it.
DODEA MERGER LAW
DoDEA management proposed this law earlier in 2018 with a request to have it included in the FY 19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Purporting to be about merging its Stateside and Overseas school systems into a single entity to increase efficiency, the changes DoDEA management seeks are actually a full-barrel attack on the most basic rights and civil service protections of its workforce. As of now, thanks to a great job by NEA Government Relations of educating lawmakers about DoDEA's true intentions, those lawmakers have, thus far, decided to withhold DoDEA's hurtful proposed language from the NDAA. The DoDEA proposal, however, could still be added to the NDAA as it moves through either house of Congress and the eventual conference committee that will create the final version, so we are continuing our efforts. Visit www.feaonline.org while you are off this summer to find out what you can do to help the effort.
TAXES ON RELOCATION BENEFITS
The tax overhaul passed by Congress late last year made sweeping changes to U.S. tax laws, many of which were not fully understood or reported on until long after the bill took effect.
Among those was a change to the way moving assistance and allowances related to relocating for work are treated. Assistance and benefits provided by an employer to its employees to help them relocate for work are now considered taxable income under the new tax code.
This has hugely negative implications for federal employees who relocate for work and receive help from the government with moving their household goods, airfare to new locations, TQA and other benefits designed to ease the burden on them for their willingness to relocate in the service of the government. Such assistance can now add thousands of dollars in taxes for employees.
Because of the huge scope of the tax bill, the speed with which it was moved through Congress and the many other issues we are currently addressing for members, FEA was not aware of this negative tax change until after it was implemented and feds began to feel its effects. FEA and other employee unions immediately reached out to members of Congress, seeking relief for these employees, who should not face a financial burden for relocating in the service of the federal government.
In May, the General Services Administration gave guidance to federal agencies, authorizing them to pay Withholding Tax Allowance (WTA) and Relocation Income Tax Allowance (RITA) to cover "substantially all" taxes federal employees would incur while transferring from one duty station or agency to another. This includes DoDEA employees who are transferred via the transfer program or are declared excess and reassigned to a new location.
Unfortunately, the WTA/RITA authorization does not currently cover federal employees who are retiring/separating from federal service or those just entering federal service. Such employees still face huge and unexpected tax burdens as they enter or leave federal service; a situation which is obviously unfair and (in combination with the other issues highlighted in this update) will make it increasingly difficult for DoDEA to recruit qualified employees willing to enter federal service.
FEA/NEA and other employee unions continue to urge lawmakers to provide WTA/RITA or other assistance to employees entering/leaving federal service. Legislation seeking to do so has been put forth by a bipartisan group of Senators including Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine. While that proposal, if adopted, would ease the burden on retirees in future years, it, unfortunately, may not be able to help DoDEA employees who are retiring this year due to the fact that any change in retroactive policy is considered an entitlement cost and that is not something that can move out of a Committee because of restrictions. But NEA GR is working hard to see how we can address this via other avenues.
We will continue to work on this issue and update members on new developments.
PROPOSED RETIREMENT CUTS
Another negative proposal this year was OPM's effort to slash federal retirement benefits. This spring, OPM asked the House to include language in the NDAA that would re-compute pensions based on employees' high five years of salary instead of the current three years, eliminate cost of living adjustments for all pensions and require feds to contribute more than seven percent of their salaries towards retirement costs, among other hurtful proposals. OPM wants to require federal employees to once again shoulder a huge proportion of government spending cuts after they've already lost around $200 billion in salaries and benefits this decade due to pay freezes and other cuts.
At this time, Congress has taken no action on OPM's request. However, with talk of more tax cuts heating up as politicians look toward November's elections, don't be surprised to see the anti-worker forces raise OPM's ideas as a way to balance the government's books.
FEA and NEA continue to monitor this issue and will let members know if the need for action arises.
UNLAWFUL EXECUTIVE ORDERS
As we reported to members just a few days ago, FEA joined with 12 other federal employees' unions to file a lawsuit seeking to stop implementation of three Executive Orders issues by President Trump in May. Those Executive Orders attack employee's union rights and protections against unfair treatment by management. You can read about the lawsuit by going to this page.
We are hearing now that the President will likely issue more anti-worker, anti-union Executive Orders in the weeks and months ahead. As with all such attacks, FEA will take all necessary and appropriate steps to assure our members' rights are protected to the fullest extent of the law.
We will continue to send out updates as other issues arise. Please visit www.feaonline.org and follow us on Facebook/Twitter for the latest news and information.
Best wishes for a great summer break!