February 20, 2020

Warren, Markey, Whitehouse, Reed Urge Correction of Cost-of-Living Pay Disparities for Federal Employees Living in Southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Dale Cabaniss urging the agency to address the significant disparities between locality pay adjustments for hourly versus salaried federal workers in southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Many federal employees are compensated under one of two pay systems. The General Schedule (GS) system covers the majority of civilian "white-collar" federal employees, usually in salaried positions, and provides a cost-of-living pay adjustment for workers based on 47 "pay locality areas." The Federal Wage System (FWS) covers "blue-collar" employees who are paid by the hour, and determines wages based on 248 "local wage areas."

Currently, federal employees covered by the GS system in 22 counties in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine are part of the Boston-Worcester-Providence locality pay area and receive a locality pay adjustment of 29.11%. However, federal employees covered by the FWS in eight of these counties fall under the Narragansett Bay wage area, rather than the Boston wage area, and receive substantially less compensation to adjust for cost of living. For instance, the current pay rate for most entry-level FWS employees in the Boston wage area is $13.86, compared with $12.88 in the Narragansett Bay wage area-despite the fact these employees would receive the same locality pay adjustment under the GS system.

"We ask that you address the unfair and unnecessary wage disparities faced by our constituents by consolidating FWS wage areas and aligning them with GS locality pay areas," the senators wrote in their letter.

In a March 2018 letter, the senators called on the OPM to implement a 2010 recommendation by the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee (FPRAC) to align GS locality pay areas and FWS wage areas across the country, which would address this problem and bring parity to the locality pay adjustments of federal employees in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and elsewhere. In its response, then-Acting OPM Director Dr. Jeff T.H. Pon responded that while FPRAC did not have a Chair at that time, he would work with FPRAC to review this issue once it did.

The senators reiterated the request in their letter today, noting that FPRAC now has a Chair, and asked OPM for a response to their letter by March 4, 2020.

"We respectfully request an update on your review of FPRAC's 2010 recommendation and again urge you to implement it and correct the unwarranted disparity faced by our FWS constituents as soon as possible," the senators continued.

In June 2019, Senator Warren co-sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act led by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) that would have limited the number of local wage areas defined within a GS pay locality, aligning the pay areas for the two systems more closely.