OPM Director John Berry must be filled with contempt for bilingual federal employees.  Or maybe the Obama appointee is just a hand puppet being worked by others with contempt for them.  Or maybe he does not believe they deserve equal rights.  Otherwise, how do you explain how poorly he treats bilinguals?  See if you can figure it out.

Federal salaries are determined by something called the “Classification System.”  It rates job based on certain factors, e.g., knowledge required, level of supervision necessary, complexity, etc.  Points are assigned under each factor, e.g., the more job knowledge required the more points the job gets.     And the more total points the higher the salary. 

Someone employed as a Foreign Language Specialist (GS-1040) gets additional points for his/her language skills.  Foreign Language Specialist are awarded 950 points if he/she can “read and understand the material in one language and mentally transfer the material into the second language….compose [in writing] a statement in the second language that is clear to the audience, and accurately reflects the intent of the original material.”  In other words, they must be able “to translate scientific, medical, fiscal, technical, or other specialized material written for the layman.”    If they have higher skills, they get more points. Those are OPM’s own words and rules.

However, and this is a HUGE however, if an agency needs a bilingual employee to fill a job not titled it chooses not to title as a Foreign Language Specialist, John Berry prohibits them from giving the employee any points for their bilingual work—even if they use their second language 8 hours a day.  For example, if a bilingual employee is hired by Social Security, IRS, or immigration agencies to deal with members of the public who do not understand English well enough to fulfill their legal obligations, that employee is not given even one classification point for translating those agencies’ very complicated regulations and procedures for the person inquiring.  The employee is only given credit for his/her knowledge of the SSA, IRS, or immigration regulations and procedures. John Berry treats their language skills a freebie for management.

If these employees were given credit for their regulatory knowledge as well as their language knowledge many would earn enough points to be paid at a higher grade.  In case you do not yet see the ridiculousness of John Berry’s rule, look at it this way.  If SSA, IRS or whoever could not hire a bilingual employee to deal with the public, it would have to hire a second employee to merely translate between the public and the employee who knows the regulations and procedures.  That second employee would be called a Foreign Language Specialist and paid solely for his/her language skills.  You got it?  The agency would have to pay two employees to do the work that one employee does today simply because he/she is bilingual.

The primary reason for this is that John Berry wants it this way.  We can say that because he has sole and exclusive power to make all salary classification systems.  His decisions cannot be grieved, arbitrated or even appealed to a court.  An employee’s only recourse is to file an appeal with Berry’s staff who openly advertise that it is just as likely to order an appealing employee’s job downgraded from its current salary as it is to order the salary increased.  In other words, the odds are worse than Russian roulette with a six-shooter. Berry’s power is on par with the Pope, the North Korean Dear Leader, and the Commissioner of Baseball.  And we all know how easily they all addressed serious problems right under their noses.

Berry and his staff know quite well that many American employers pay their bilingual employees extra to use the skill.  Some say an extra 20%.  A quick search of Google using the terms “bilingual and job” along with “stipend, allowance, or bonus,” produced over 300,000 hits for bilingual nurses, teachers, sales staff, service representatives, tour leaders, librarians, police, bankers, secretaries, paralegals, HR, PR, case workers, etc.  Extra compensation is offered in each of those occupations.

A secondary group of culprits behind this scam are the various unions that to date have chosen not to team up to demand fairness for their members employed in bilingual positions.  Only slightly less culpable are the other interest groups such as MALDEF, who claim to stand up for Americans of certain national origins, but do not seem to get the multi-million dollar significance of the OPM con game.  These groups are involved because the vast majority of bilingual employees acquired their second language skill from their recently immigrated mom and dad who insisted they retain the language of their nationality.

Entering an election year, perhaps Berry or his puppet masters will realize the potential support they could generate among bilingual communities if they corrected this injustice.  If not, it will take a union (or individual attorneys) filing a grievance, complaint, or suit on behalf of a bilingual employee to challenge the Classification system as discriminating against employees based on their national origin.  For example, if someone looked at all the employees classified as performing bilingual duties and examined their national origin, it is virtually certain that one would find a high correlation between their language skills and  national origin.  That positions a plaintiff to argue that by arbitrarily deciding that Foreign Language Specialists get salary credit for their bilingual skills, but others do not—and those others are defined in the vast, vast majority of cases by their national origin—there is enough to conclude this violates the Civil Rights Act.

Even if it does not violate equal rights law, it is something John Berry should personally find offensive.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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