Houston & Peach

Federal pay freeze affects about 9,000 at Robins

About a million federal employees will start off 2011 with less money than planned because of a White House imposed pay freeze.

President Obama froze the pay of many federal employees, excluding active duty military members, in late 2010. The freeze was expanded to senior executives last week in an attempt to save an estimated $2 billion in direct payroll over the next two years.

The freeze affects nearly 9,000 federal workers on Robins Air Force Base, the largest federal employer in Middle Georgia, and would remove about $80 million in payroll growth over the next two years, according to base salary figures and the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents federal workers.

“Where’s the sense in this? Here you have hundreds of thousands of hard working Americans, doing their jobs, going to work, paying their bills, and what you say to them is ‘You don’t deserve a pay raise. You deserve a pay freeze,’ ’’ said Carlus Strickland, of the American Federation of Government Employees chapter in Warner Robins. “You’ve got multimillionaires out there getting raises, but the men and women who turn wrenches and keep our planes flying are not.”

The pay freeze does not affect active duty military troops or retiree benefits.

The latest Robins figures show the base paid out $1.15 billion in salary to civilian workers in fiscal year 2009, the last year the figures are available.

Cost of living and other salary and benefit increases push Robins civilian payroll up by more than $40 million a year, according to the last five years of salary numbers. That would remove more than $80 million in pay increases from Robins for 2011 and 2012.

Trip Shinn, an economist with Macon State College, said the figure might seem larger than it is because of people’s spending habits.

“While that sounds like a large amount -- and in many ways it is significant -- it probably will not affect the area that much,” said Shinn, a business professor who focuses on Robins and federal impact economics. “People tend not to alter their spending habits in the short term. If it were a five-year freeze, then that would be something to impact the local economies.”

Shinn didn’t totally dismiss the freeze, however.

“Cost of living adjustments and raises do add to the economy, but people just don’t stop spending when their pay is affected by small amounts. They save less. They pay less debt. They don’t stop other spending,” Shinn said.

As an economist, Shinn said federal pay probably should be frozen more in the future as the White House and Congress deal with deficit spending and growing budgets.

“Pay freezes at the federal level are probably all too rare,” Shinn said. “It’s one way to save money. The state of Georgia, along with other state and local governments, have had to deal with the hard fact that budgets have to be balanced. State workers had to take forced leaves of absences and furloughs from work. That’s a pay cut, or a pay freeze, however you want to look at it.

“It may be time for Washington to enact the same for federal workers.”

Strickland said the American Federation of Government Employees union is fighting the freeze, especially the 2012 portion, “but I don’t know if it will help. It’s been enacted. There may be a chance to roll it back next fiscal year. It’s just a bad deal for federal workers who do well at their jobs.”

To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.