About 700 painters, plumbers, printers and carpenters are close to getting a raise after years under a Government Printing Office pay system they say is unfair and unreasonable.
The two-tier system is the bane of several GPO unions, who argue that it underpays new employees who do the same job as their higher-paid peers. At least nine GPO unions have worked under the system for years, but the debate started anew this year when many of the unions’ contracts expired.
Now the Joint Committee on Printing, which oversees the GPO and has to sign off on the contract, is set to approve a new contract for eight unions that would put new and old employees in the same pay system and give them all a 15.1 percent raise over five years.
“I am extremely pleased that this issue has been resolved,” JCP’s Chairman, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), said in a statement. “I’m especially pleased that the proposed contract provides for a fair and equitable wage structure, one that was overwhelmingly supported by those employees who were eligible to vote for ratification.”
The compromise comes after four months of negotiations, which ran far past the June expiration date of the unions’ former contract.
“I think quite frankly [employees] are satisfied it’s finally over,” said George Lord, president of the Joint Bargaining Committee, which represented the eight unions in negotiations. “Of course, we were a little disappointed because GPO has had a banner year in terms of revenue.”
Union members approved the five-year contract 333-30. But Lord said the overwhelming support overshadows the disappointment of GPO employees who have been asked to make financial sacrifices during GPO’s less profitable past. But after a restructuring, the public agency is doing well financially, so they expected a bit more without so much haggling, he said. Unions accepted the two-tiered system in the first place only because of the agency’s former financial problems, he said.
“It’s not the first time we’ve made concessions to help GPO’s financial woes,” he said. “Employees see that as a sacrifice.”
Public Printer Bob Tapella acknowledged that negotiations were difficult but said the agency was “ecstatic” that an agreement was finally made.
“It’s a great day for the agency and our employees. We are looking forward to JCP approval,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Negotiations may be challenging, but in the end the results are worth it.”
But the same issues still plague several other GPO unions in negotiations with the agency. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has been fighting over the two-tiered pay system and salary increases since September, said Bill Blevins, president of the local union. The agency proposed several plans that would use a two-tiered system before dropping the request, Blevins said.
“This is at a time when the agency is posting profits,” he said. “They’re making money, but they’re not willing to let our members get a small pay raise.”
Negotiations are still ongoing, but the agency’s unwillingness to raise salaries more substantially may have a lingering effect on employees, he said.
“I think GPO is going to have a hard time dealing with that,” he said.