By Samantha Harms
Fort Cavazos Public Affairs
FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — Federal wage grade employees at Fort Cavazos, and all federal agencies located in the Waco wage area, will officially see a 4.75 percent increase in their paychecks in the coming weeks.
“If the weapons could speak,” shared Oscar Medina, a small arms mechanic with the Army Field Support Battalion-Cavazos Maintenance Division, “they’d actually tell you how happy I am (about the increase).”
The increase is a result of a Department of Defense-conducted Federal Wage System wage survey.
“It’s the largest pay increase we could have received for our Federal Wage System employees,” Catherine Levandovsky, Fort Cavazos Civilian Personnel Advisory Center director, explained.
FWS is a uniform pay-setting system that covers federal blue-collar employees who are paid by the hour. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the system’s goal is to make sure that federal trade, craft and laboring employees within a local wage area who perform the same duties receive the same rate of pay.
This system was established in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson because, prior to then, there was no central authority to establish wage equity.
All blue-collar federal workers have been paid according to local prevailing private sector rates since the Civil War. However, until 1965, each federal agency had the authority to determine local prevailing rates and establish wage area boundaries for its employees.
As a consequence, blue-collar federal workers at the same grade level in the same city working for different agencies received different rates, according to the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Services.
In 1965, this inequity was addressed by a presidential memo. President Johnson ordered the former Civil Service Commission to work with federal agencies and labor organizations to study the different agency systems and combine them into a single wage system that would be sensible and just, according to the OPM.
The President called for common job-grading standards and wage policies and practices that would ensure interagency equity in wage rates.
He established two basic principles for these policies and practices: wages will be set according to local prevailing rates, and there will be equal pay for equal work and pay distinctions in keeping with work distinctions.
Congress established the FWS by law in 1972.
The DOD now conducts FWS wage surveys and establishes pay rates for all regular FWS wage schedules.
The wage survey, this year’s being the first conducted in the area since 2019, is generally conducted every two years.
“It’s a big, massive survey, and we go out and actually survey private organizations, businesses, corporations throughout this area and compare their rates to our pay rates,” Sarah Mitchell, supervisory human resources specialist with the Fort Cavazos CPAC, explained, “and through that, we end up with a yearly pay adjustment.”
The process to receive the increase for the Waco wage area took several months.
The first step, which took place on Jan. 18, was a hearing held with the Fort Cavazos CPAC and the Fort Cavazos Garrison command team, along with employees, other leaders, local union representatives and supervisors from various customers, including outside federal agencies.
“It was very nice to have the participation there,” Mitchell said. “It was probably the largest turnout we’ve had and the largest participation we’ve had, starting from senior leaders. It was amazing. The support we received was wonderful.”
The hearing provided an opportunity for those directly impacted to provide information and recommendations, detailing which wage-grade positions should be surveyed, as well as which area companies should be surveyed to address the competitive wage scale.
Following the hearing, the actual DOD survey took place from May 8-19. The results from that DOD survey were completed about a month later, taking effect on July 16.
Mitchell warned that it can take a few pay periods for personnel to see that increase reflected.
“We’re not exactly sure of the exact date employees will see the increase, but it typically takes one to two pay periods for it to take effect,” she shared. “But employees will be backdated to the effective date of the 16th.”
Participation from all echelons is one reason that those involved, like Mitchell, cite that this year’s survey had such a successful outcome.
Carlos Rodriguez, a maintenance supervisor for the Directorate of Public Works Operations and Maintenance Division, had several employees who chose to personally attend the hearing.
“My personal involvement was primarily through communication,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure that my team knew when these events were happening, where they were happening, and what their level of participation could be. … This was an opportunity for them to actually get up and voice their own with their own reasons or concerns.
“And I believe that that combination of, ‘Hey, I got to go and speak, and the garrison commander was there, and the chief of the division was there. And there were other entities like the VA (Department of Veteran Affairs),’” Rodriguez continued. “They really soaked in how big this was getting and how important it was for Fort Cavazos as a whole, not just (for the) wage-grade eight worker fixing air conditioners wanting to compete with the outside pay.”
He highlighted the importance of his team being there, despite the fact that they are currently short-staffed and facing a “challenge of having the time” to attend the hearing.
“Sometimes, when you’re waist-deep in priority ones, that takes precedence over trying to pull that time away, (to) allocate some time to go and put your two cents in or find an avenue where you contact somebody that will have an impact on this,” Rodriguez explained. “So having everybody on board agreeing that we want this, we all know why we need this. Again, not just for retention purposes, but for recruitment purposes as well.”
One of the concerns voiced during the Jan. 18 hearing was that organizations with the federal government are continuing to lose wage-grade employees to other businesses simply due to the pay scale.
However, now, the 4.75 percent increase gives employers a fighting chance to bring in potential new applicants.
“To me, a larger effect is going to be the opportunity to bring in qualified individuals that we may not have been able to reach before,” Rodriguez said. “I know it wasn’t 20 percent or anything like that, but when we’re pulling somebody from say Round Rock or Austin, we can alleviate some of the pay difference by the drive, the fuel, the cost of maintenance on the vehicles.
“But that gets us a lot closer to be able to grab some of those seasoned tradespersons and get them on board with the pay that we’ve got,” he continued. “Because being competitive has been a challenge, especially with your Austin pay scale, your Dallas pay scale, and your Houston pay scale.”
The potential effects as far as recruitment are far reaching beyond just one directorate.
“Everybody’s happy with (the amount),” Curtis Haynes, a forklift operator with the AFSBn Subsistence Supply Management Office, shared. “I think overall it’s fair because they’re putting us in the same pay scale as Waco. I think we’re pretty much on the same level as everybody else here in Central Texas, not Austin, not San Antonio, but I think it’s very comfortable.”
EMPLOYER OF CHOICE
While the surveys themselves are conducted to simply adjust the wage-grade pay scale, it has a far wider reach when it comes to making the federal government an employer of choice among the vast choices in the private sector.
“I’ve always thought Fort Cavazos is the employer of choice, obviously,” Levandovsky shared. “But the federal government, in general, should be an employment of choice for people coming out of trade schools and looking for a way to support the military, a way to support veterans, a way to support the federal government in general. It’s an excellent way to do that.
“We provide stability in employment, we provide excellent benefits in the federal government in general,” she continued. “And so, yes, we may not be paying as much as some big corporation out in Austin, but that corporation in Austin can’t promise the benefits that we’re giving. They can’t promise the stability that we’re giving. So that’s the advantage of (the federal government).”
Rodriguez expressed similar sentiments as Levandovsky, citing his own personal medical history that solidified the federal government was the employer of choice for himself.
“In December of last year, I got diagnosed with cancer. And I started chemo in January,” Rodriguez shared. “Because of our health care that we have out here, it was half a million dollars just in the chemo treatment, and it cost me $6,000. That (was) everything.”
Traditionally, people only considered the salary amount when applying for jobs. These days, though, applicants need to consider the benefits that they could receive with a position. This includes sick leave, holiday pay, retirement plans, health insurance, short-term and long-term disability coverage, life insurance, and even educational and training benefits.
DPW recently began offering an alternate work schedule and continues to maintain the safety of all its employees, choosing to invest in their people.
“One of the things I tell prospective employees when they ask during the interview, ‘How long have you worked here and what made you stay that long?’… is the investment we have in employees for training and safety,” he said. “We spend (more than) $200,000 a year on different types of training, from safety to advanced knowledge to the operation and maintenance trainings … We invest a lot of money, and those kinds of things right there show that (the Army) wants to grow you … I tell these folks, these are some of the reasons that you’re not going to find on USAJobs, you’re not going to find this on Indeed on why (I stay).”
QUALITY OF LIFE
DPW, AFSBn and other organizations put a focus on each of those items because the officials and leaders within those places of work are passionate about wanting to improve the quality of life for their employees.
Additionally, everyone involved really seems to enjoy taking care of one another.
“This process is very important to us,” Mitchell expressed. “It’s very near and dear to us. We’re very passionate about it because we want to do what’s right for the workforce. And we were willing and continue to be willing to do whatever we need to for the workforce.
“And I can’t stress how passionate we are about situations like the wage surveys and about the workforce,” she continued. “I know this doesn’t eliminate that pay disparity. We’re going to do our very best to keep that pay disparity (low), to minimize it the best we can.”
Rodriguez shared similar sentiments as Mitchell.
“My team is chock full of tenacity,” he said. “They are going to continue to find avenues and evidence of why we should continue to fight for an increase, be competitive, draw seasoned folks out here that can more or less hit the ground running. This right here fueled the fire … They’re going to continue to want to show that they need, earn and deserve this.”
As of two weeks ago Monday, Rodriguez is officially cancer-free.