American civilian employees of the Defense Department have put up with pay freezes and are going on furloughs starting next week, but German civilian workers at U.S. military bases in Germany are getting a pay increase.
Some U.S. lawmakers say it’s unfair that the German union ver.di, which represents about 2 million workers, successfully negotiated a pay increase in June. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., complained about the raise for German workers in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel dated Monday and released by her office Tuesday. She asked him to suspend it.
Last month, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and 15 other Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to Hagel asking for an explanation of why German workers were getting raises when Americans were having their pay cut.
Pentagon officials said they wouldn’t divulge Hagel’s replies to lawmakers. But Army spokesman Paul D. Prince said the agreement in Germany called for a one-time payment of 500 euros ($649) this year and a 30-euro ($39) per month increase beginning in January.
The 2014 pay increase doesn’t exceed 1 percent and is similar to the amount President Barack Obama proposed for General Schedule (federal white-collar) employees in his 2014 budget plan. The payments are “prevailing practice” in such negotiations in Germany and therefore aren’t considered discretionary monetary awards, which are now prohibited by the White House Office of Management and Budget, Prince said.
Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Hagel that the pay raise in Germany takes place while about 650,000 American Department of Defense civilian employees in the U.S. and abroad are being furloughed. The furloughs begin next week, mostly one day per week, and continue through the end of the fiscal year in September.
When the furloughs were announced, the military said foreign nationals would be exempt because of the complicated ways they were paid, which vary by country.
Hagan wrote to Hagel that 19,000 civilian defense workers will get furloughs in North Carolina. The 20 percent pay cut amounts to a total loss of $64 million in pay. Roughly the same number of German workers will receive more than $16 million in additional pay this year and next year, she added.
The German union said a pay increase was due because there hadn’t been raises since 2010. According to news reports in Germany, ver.di was particularly interested in raises at the base in Bamberg because it said the base would close soon and unemployment would be determined by pay at that time.
In her letter, Hagan said the Defense Department told the Armed Services Committee it thought there would be a strike if there weren’t an agreement on wage increases and that the union might turn that into a political issue.
“While hardworking U.S. DoD civilians are being furloughed and have not seen a pay increase in several years, I believe the department should be willing to stand up to this pressure from German workers,” Hagan wrote.
The Defense Department-authorized newspaper Stars and Stripes reported last month that the agreement was reached in mid-June and was to become final Tuesday. Stars and Stripes said that about 18,000 German civilians worked for U.S. Army and Air Force bases across Germany.
Matthew Schofield contributed to this article from Berlin.