Career Ladders for Temps?!?! Maybe Soon!

More interesting news for “disposable” employees!

campbell_fire1-webhttp://nffe.org/ht/display/ArticleDetails/i/105694

NFFE-Backed Temporary Employment Reform Legislation Approved by Senate Committee

There may come a time when temporary employees actually have a career ladder!

“Thousands of wildland firefighters and other dedicated seasonal workers have been stuck for too long in dead-end jobs, not because of a lack of merit on their parts, but because of flawed regulations that do not recognize their years of service,” said Mark Davis, Vice President of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and past President of the NFFE Forest Service Council.  “Many others leave and take their years of experience with them because of blocked career paths. After years of work, I’m optimistic that we are about to fix that.”

Of course, this is most directed towards firefighters, as so many timber temps have been jettisoned or have found “other employment”. Most temps would say that there is plenty of work to do, outside of their 1039 appointments but, that issue is not being addressed. The higher-ups choose to continue to embrace the 1039 appointments, thinking that policy is “good enough for Government work”. There really is nothing stopping the Forest Service from changing their policies on 1039 appointments. Truthfully, I’d like to see the temporary appointments scaled back to 800 hours, essentially forcing the Forest Service and other Agencies to hire more 13/13 permanent positions. Yep, make it too costly and “inconvenient” for them to continue using temps to do work that is needed, each and every year. It’s up to OPM to impose more rules, to stop the abuse of the temporary hiring authority.

9 Comments

  1. Larry.. I know there’s plenty of work! I wonder though, to what extent, would the result lead to contracting out more work. Plus at one time there was some tension between “hiring experienced people” and “hiring new people who are more diverse”- hopefully that has dissipated. Do you know how the legislation addresses those issues, or needs to, in your opinion?

    • On my last crew, there was no diversity among the applicants. They had already hired the wife of a current permanent employee, then hired the 5 white males who applied for the job, including me. None of the other guys had any Forest Service, or forestry experience, hired as GS-3’s. One guy wanted a fire job but, didn’t get it. Yes, there still are a few Consent Decrees on the books, and the Forest Service is having trouble attracting “more diverse” timber employees. I don’t think that is true for seasonal firefighters. More RD’s need firefighters than timber folks, so that seems where the legislation is targeted.

      Contracting is WAY more expensive, both in firefighting and timber work. Otherwise, I think, there would have been directives in the past to outsource the timber work. I was part of an “internal outsourcing” group of Forest Service employees, doing timber work, and my cost, including all administrative costs, equipment costs and travel, was $66 per hour, as a GS-7. Of course, I got paid the standard GS-7 rate, plus per diem.

      I doubt that the eco-community would like to have “the timber industry” doing the Forest Service’s timber work. We did see the backlash when that was proposed on the Biscuit Fire. I think the hierarchy of the Forest Service would like to wash its hands of temporary timber employees, preferring to outsource it, if they could. I also think there could be a future backlash against using inexperienced people to do such technical work. The days of marking prescriptions that say, in essence, “cut all the big ones”, are long over with. I just think that this issue is one of the big ugly secrets that the Forest Service would like to be free of. They like to point at rules, laws, policies and budgets but, they continue to spend billions on wildfires.

      The Forest Service could fix this….. if they really wanted to. I also think there are other issues which they do not want to talk about, and maybe shouldn’t talk about, to the public. If permanent positions are mandated, they THINK they might end up with “diverse” people who cannot do the job, as permanent employees. The skill set needed for today’s timber projects continues to go higher and higher. Additionally, the costs of having temps converted to 13/13’s isn’t that high, with a 1039 appointment being one hour short of a permanent position.

  2. The one current “good thing” about hiring brand new people each year is that they can be used beyond the 1039 hour limit, using “training hours” to work them longer throughout the year. I’ve also heard that some units just disregard the 1039 hour limit, using their own “loopholes” to work temps until the snow flies. Since there is little enforcement of the limit, they often get away with it. Also, since the temp wants to work longer, they don’t see it as “abuse”.

  3. What Larry is saying is just so sad, but also so true. They (the 1039 seasonal employees at their start) do not see it as abuse…they get to work the training hours, depending on budget if turnover is in a fiscal year, and they consider themselves lucky to have a job for a longer term. Then there are the long term seasonal employees – those who keep getting abused year after year. They keep waiting and hoping in earnest for the Government to maybe make it possible for them to apply for a permanent position, or to just have a position for them to actually apply to. As of recent years, they also try to take advantage of Pathways programs to get ‘in’ by being enrolled in some online courses. Even then their experience, local expertise and knowledge, and their dedication often gets passed over for “diverse” recent graduates who know nothing of the resourse they are hired for, as these candidates have had no actual training or job experience in the local area – just a recent degree. But as long as the Agency can show it is meeting its “diversity requirements”, it matters not what the Agency does to any of its long term, returning seasonal employees. Maybe some of you are thinking ‘why doesn’t the long term seasonal employee just move on, find another job…after all that is the Forest Service mentality’. Well it is mainly because most of the long term seasonal employees LOVE where they work and what they do…moreso than some of the permanent hires at times. This legislation, should it come to fruition, is LONG overdue and actually VERY inadequate. There should be legislation to convert long term seasonal employees to permanent status. The Forest Service knows the workload is there to support this type of legislation. While I do commend the current push, it is woefully inadequate to offer any sort of support to those who have long supported the Mission of the Forest Service.

    • Basically, timber temps are often treated like migrant tree farm workers. It’s a dead end job with without a livable wage. Yes, the Forest Service pays their unemployment for the other six months, while needed work goes uncompleted. Yes, temps now are able to buy their own government health plan but, with the ACA in place, that benefit has limited value. Temporaries do not get step increases, based on merit, either, and have no job certainty beyond the end of their appointment. Current permanent employees have trouble ignoring this situation but, they choose not to stand up for ethics and compassion. One thing that both political parties agree upon is that the Forest Service should not expand the size of their permanent workforce (for different reasons). Clearly, no one in the Forest Service hierarchy cares about the quality of the fieldwork that timber temporaries do. That seems to be the main problem. The old excuses of budgets, red tape, FTE’s and diversity just don’t add up, anymore. America seems stuck with this broken system. Can this situation get worse? Probably. Will any of the new bills in Congress help? Probably not. Will OPM tighten their rules? Probably not.

  4. From the write up on Facebook, I thought it had passed the full Senate and was amazed that any legislation could be that close to the President’s desk. Even though it isn’t, this is encouraging. I was a 7 year seasonal before I got a permanent job, and thank god I got that permanent job before the internet and between wars. The Elephant in the Room is still Veteran’s Preference, which is another factor against many qualified applicants even getting that temporary job, not to mention diversity. Don’t get me wrong, I have hired some great veterans (I even hired an excellent WWII veteran in the 1980s who could out hike anyone at age 68), but it always rankled me that those with minimal qualifications went to the top of the heap. Even Pathways went with Veterans Preference. You’ve gotta really want and try to get in, and there’s a reason–it’s a great career!

    • Yes, it does appear that the bill is headed to the President’s desk, and the Union thinks he will sign it.

      http://nffe.org/ht/display/ArticleDetails/i/105745

      However, it still doesn’t seem like there will much benefit for the timber temps. The bill doesn’t add funding for conversions, or additional permanent positions. The bill also doesn’t discourage the Agency from using temporary positions. We will still have the revolving door of new employees and “Federal McForestry”. Additionally, there are “ologist” temps who won’t be seeing permanent jobs, either.

      On the other hand, there might be a chance for a “cottage industry” of groundtruthing and litigation, finding all the mistakes made by those “warm bodies”. Measuring trees to make sure they meet the diameter limits, as well as measuring stream buffers could yield successful “monkeywrenching” lawsuits.

      It just isn’t important to the Forest Service to have excellence and consistency in temporary jobs that support the timber program.

  5. An update: OPM and the Forest Service have yet to implement the law, as hiring season for 2016 approaches.

    The Forest Service continues to hope for major changes to its timber management programs, as it is not looking good for any future expansion of thinning practices. They would really love to outsource its “boots-on-the-ground” timber work, so they can get more labor-intensive work done in the woods. Their current system of hiring inexperienced temporary employees continues to fall further and further behind. Remember, temps can only work for 1039 hours (six months, minus one hour) each year.

    Yes, Congress did act by passing a law to help temporaries but, they didn’t research the issues enough. Basically, the Forest Service can hire longterm temps into vacant already-existing jobs but, it only works well for firefighters. With timber temps, there are no existing vacant permanent jobs that they are even allowed to apply for. Part of the goal is to have more highly-qualified applicants competing for both temporary and permanent jobs. As it is now, you don’t need ANY experience to qualify for those temporary timber jobs. With a decided lack of an experienced workforce, the Forest Service seems fine with training brand new employees, each and every year, and living with the impacts of so many mistakes. I call this practice “Federal McForestry”, as it mimics the fast food hiring paradigm.

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