SHEPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — As the maxim goes, money can’t buy happiness, but it sure does help.
Non-appropriated fund employees in the 82nd Force Support Squadron are finding that out as they’ve benefited from a bump in the federal minimum wage. While the positive effects of the increase are being felt by employees and families, the impact of higher wages will also mean higher prices at some FSS functions for consumers.
One of the first actions taken by President Joe Biden after taking office in January 2021 was signing Executive Order 14003: Protecting the Federal Workforce, which increased the federal minimum wage for federal employees and contractors to $15 per hour. The roll out of the pay increase for Sheppard AFB employees covered by the order was Feb. 6, 2022.
Jeff Gutierrez, 82nd FSS deputy director, said they have seen a difference in employees as they’ve seen heftier paychecks hit their bank accounts. He said people are more excited, happier, relieved and more focused in the workplace as a result of the federal action.
“If you don’t feel happy for them, then you’re in the wrong business. I feel extreme joy for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, to be able to be that person to execute those personnel actions for them — we did them as timely as we possibly could so they could get that money as fast as they could — that made me happy to be able to do that.”
NAF programs in FSS such as lodging, the bowling centers, restaurants, Outdoor Recreation, the Child Development Center, the Lake Texoma Annex and much more are funded through the profits made by those functions. That includes the paychecks employees earn.
Gutierrez said the leadership challenge now is how to sustain the quality programs and services offered while meeting the new federal wage requirements. He said that includes making smart business decisions within each function.
That means higher prices for consumers.
“Price adjustments have already happened at Outdoor Recreation and the bowling centers. Some nominal increases have already gone into effect at all of our restaurants,” he said. “We will see increases out at the lake a little bit later this summer — we already published our rates before this guidance came out, so they haven’t adjusted.”
Two bigger changes yet to occur will be increased fees and costs at the CDC and the Sheppard Inn. Gutierrez explained that those adjustments are made from higher headquarters, so the new childcare and lodging rates haven’t filtered down to the installation. He said he expects guidance on those to come down late summer or early fall.
Another added benefit realized by FSS has been an increase in the number and quality of applicants for NAF positions at Sheppard. Gutierrez said they didn’t have flexibility in wages because they are set by the Office of Personnel Management, which put many jobs at a competitive disadvantage. The minimum wage change, however, has put them in better footing in the job market.
“The beauty of that is now we can start to be picky. We can start to take a hard look at the folks who are applying and try to find the right people to provide those services on the installation,” he said. “It’s not just a person. We want the right person, and this is one of those tools that’s helping us.”
Buddy Trivette, manager of Sheppard’s bowling centers and NAF employee here for 40 years, said he has been a beneficiary of being able to select the right person for his team as seen in the boost in applicants for their positions — cook, mechanic and recreation aid — because of the better wages. He said open positions were posted every two weeks, but no one applied.
“After the pay raise, after the minimum wage went into effect, we still put them out every two weeks, but now we’re getting seven to 15 applications when it closes, so people are starting to apply,” he said, adding the quality of applicants has improved, which will only help with quality customer service. “I feel like the more quality people we get in here, the more that’s going to bring business, also.”
Trivette, who started out as a bowling center cook in 1982, said the pay raise has changed the lives of several of his employees and has boosted morale. From simply being able to pay off bills or buying a more reliable vehicle for them and their family, their quality of life has improved.
Like Guiterrez, the bowling manager said he was a bit skeptical of the increase in pay because of the sustainability piece of the pay pie and how they were going to be able to pay for it. He said they’ve implemented some new programs such as tournaments and more leagues, as well as an updated menu at Kegler’s Kitchen to help drive revenue.
Hilda Valadez, a materials handler at the Sheppard Inn for five years, described the bump in pay as “life-changing.” The single mother of four teenagers said she has worked at least two jobs at the same time for years to provide for her family and try to make ends meet, especially during tough times. Her children, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, would barely get to see her because she worked nights at one job, came out to Sheppard when that shift was over, and then go home to sleep.
Now, she said, she can devote more time to being home with her family, being a mother and, when time permits, even have a little time for herself.
“I don’t have to worry as much,” she said. “I can pay my bills on time and not have to worry about when I’m going to have this extra money, so it helps so much.”
Valadez said the pay increase has made her coworkers happier, but perhaps more importantly, show their appreciation in the work they do. She said many go above and beyond their daily tasks because of the sense of pride they have.
according to an OPM news release in January 2022, about 67,000 of the federal government’s 2.2 million employees benefited from the minimum wage increase. That includes about 50,000 NAF employees in the Defense Department.