Local nationals take to Landstuhl’s streets to demand a wage hike
By JENNIFER H. SVAN AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2014
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Hundreds of local civilians working for the U.S. military and other foreign forces walked off the job Monday to protest stagnant wages and demand their first significant raise in four years.
The U.S. government, which employs most of the 17,000 local civilians in Germany, hasn’t said no to a pay increase this year — yet.
Annual salary negotiations are set for later this week in Bonn, said Jürgen Dehnert, a press officer for the Rhineland-Pfalz region of ver.di, the union representing the workers.
Dehnert said Monday’s protest was timed to “send a message to the negotiators,” he said. “We want to have something on the table.”
The union is asking for a 3 percent raise for all employees or, if that’s rejected, at least an additional 90 euros more per month.
Wages for local nationals have been mostly stagnant since 2010. The only raise given in that period became effective in January, when workers’ pay was increased by 30 euros a month. They were also to receive a one-time 500-euro payment this summer and an additional holiday on Dec. 31.
Despite the small increase over four years, local nationals enjoy a generous leave policy. They get 30 days annual paid leave, as well as German holidays. Their required work week is 38.5 hours, but if they work 40, they can also take American holidays, a union representative said.
The salaries of U.S. civilian workers haven’t budged much since 2010, either. Last year, federal employees saw a 1 percent pay raise, after weathering a three-year pay freeze. This year, President Barack Obama is proposing federal and military pay be increased by 1 percent. The raise would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, if Congress does not block it.
Dehnert said the union is seeking a 3 percent raise because that would match a proposal for U.S. federal employees being put forward by some members of Congress.
“We say we are here … we want something,” too, he said.
Union representatives say public servants throughout Germany have seen an average wage increase of about 9.5 percent since 2010.
An estimated 400 to 500 workers, most of them union members, participated in Monday’s “warning strike.” They were to receive partial compensation from the union for missing work. After marching through Landstuhl holding banners and wearing union vests, they rallied in city hall to cheer on fiery union speechmakers. At times they chanted, “Raise our wages or we won’t be quiet.”
Among those in the crowd was Aime Boucherale, a French woman who works for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service bakery in Grunstadt. She said workers aren’t asking for much.
“We want to get a little bit, but not nothing. It’s not OK when you say I give you nothing.”
U.S. officials Monday said they could not comment on specifics involving salary negotiations, including how much it might cost to meet the union’s demands.
“U.S. Army Europe respects the constitutional right of local national employees to conduct strikes,” said Elke Herberger, a USAREUR spokeswoman. At this point in the negotiations, “it’s inappropriate” to discuss details, she said.
About 50 people will begin salary discussions Tuesday, said Tobias Schürmann, who will lead negotiations for ver.di. Others at the table include representatives from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance and the militaries of the United States, United Kingdom, France and Canada.
The union, Schürmann said, does not ask for a lot. “This is why we expect our demand to be fulfilled.”
Herberger said local residents are employed in all fields, such as finance and personnel, and, like herself, public affairs. Herberger said she and her public affairs’ colleagues were too busy to participate in the strike.
Local national civilians applaud during a rally Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in Landstuhl, Germany, to lobby for better wages. Salary negotiations for 17,000 host nation employees throughout Germany are set to begin Tuesday in Bonn. The union representing the workers is asking for a 3 percent pay hike or an increase of 90 euros per month across the board. Civilian employees of foreign militaries in Germany say they haven't had a significant pay increase in four years.
Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes