ENOUGH SAID!

Newsletter of

AFGE LOCAL 2505

Representing SSA Field Office Employees in Oklahoma

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

January, 2009 Ė Volume IV, No. 1

Happy New Year!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Starting off the New Year with a Chuckle!

A Local Representative called and asked what I was doing. I said I was working on the January newsletter. I said that after 4 hours of interruptions, I had only finished changing the date and the HAPPY NEW YEARS heading.

The Local Rep said I should give all the members a break and end the January Newsletter there!!

VERY FUNNY!! Sometimes a writer / editor just canít get no respect!

Settlements

The Local settled an overtime case in Poteau. Poteau allows employees a 45 minute lunch. During IVT training, the lunch was shortened to 30 minutes. SSA did not reduce the workday from 8 hours and 45 minutes to 8 and 30 minutes. That resulted in the Poteau IVT trainees "donating" 15 minutes a day of their time. SSA agreed to pay the Poteau IVT Trainees ľ of overtime (or credit hours Ė their choice) for each day they were in IVT Training (OJT days not included).

An employee complained that her manager told her that if she needed more than six months maternity leave after delivery of her Downís Syndrome baby, sheíd have to quit. The Union talked to the manager pointing out that the contract provides 225 calendar days of maternity leave PLUS 12 weeks of Family Friendly LWOP. The employee resubmitted her requests and also completed the forms to participate in the Voluntary Leave Donation Plan. After back and forth with management approving 225 days without knowing exactly when it would start and end, the understanding was that it would begin when the mother-to-be stopped working on doctorís orders and she wouldnít know that until much closer to her due date. Of course, management DENIED the request for VLTP participation because the employee hadnít started her maternity leave and, therefore, had not run out of leave. Rather than hold it, they denied it and made this young mother do all the paper work when she should have been focusing on her post-partum recovery and her new baby.

When you hear the line that SSA is a family-friendly workplace, DONíT BELIEVE IT! Remember this young motherís problems!

The Local settled a 2007 grievance for a Pine Bluff employee who did not receive an award.

Employees often fret that filing a grievance, no matter how much something bothers them, is a bad career move. Hey! If you didnít get an award, what makes you think that anyone in authority in SSA management thinks that there are any career moves for you except retirement??!!

After filing the grievance in 2007 (and SSA denying it through the three steps of the grievance process at which point the Union invoked arbitration), the employee received the same size award as her co-workers. Additionally, this employee was selected for a temporary, non-competitive promotion to a higher grade.

Filing a grievance is NOT a bad career move. Being a doormat and letting SSA walk all over you and your rights, is the bad career move!

Pending Litigation

The Local has arbitration pending on SSAís refusal to give the Union notice and bargain over Track 2 non-competitive promotions in McAlester. The Local is assisting our sister Local in Arkansas on arbitration over SSAís refusal to convert a new mother from full-time permanent to part-time permanent.

Grievances are pending on a hostile work environment, awards, appraisals, improper dues withholding drops/failure to add, failure to give a written denial for continuation of pay for an employee who suffered a traumatic, on-the-job injury (reported on below) and failure to offer / consider an employee for a non-competitive, temporary Track 2 promotion.

The Union is representing employees in a reprimand, non-selections, requests for Reasonable Accommodations and proposals to demote, to suspend for 90 days, to suspend for 120 days and to remove.

The Local has filed a winter weather grievance (reported on below) over SSAís inability to get our landlords to salt and sand before noon in bad weather.

We are keeping busy!

Poteau Update

The final EEO Counseling reports for each of the Poteau 8 were consolidated by the Union into one group grievance. SSA refused to accept the grievance. The Union escalated the grievance to the next step. So far, SSA has refused to tell the Union who the step 2 grievance official will be. Apparently, while we, as employees, had to watch the NO FEAR ACT video, the SSA management team in the region was too busy or didnít pay attention. As you may recall, the NO FEAR ACT Video clearly stated that failure to cooperate in the EEO process could result in discipline. The Union has amended the Poteau 8 grievance to include discipline for SSA management officials who have failed to process the grievance AND an additional financial remedy. SSAís refusal has what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes as a "chilling" effect on the exercise of protected activities; i.e., a reasonable person would discern from SSAís inactions that it is a waste of time to oppose discrimination in SSA or file discrimination complaints against SSA.

Arbitration Training

Our Localís own 2nd Vice President, Mary Roberts, attended AFGE 9th District Arbitration Training.

Ideally, she would have had such training BEFORE doing her first arbitration. Unexpected events (like a deer through the windshield) resulted in her pitching in to do her first arbitration on a dayís notice.

When the AFGE Arbitration Training instructor said that, because of time constraints, they were not going to be able to break into groups and do a mock arbitration, though she was disappointed, she knew what to expect.

She reports that the training was very good and it was a real eye opener about AFGEís diversity, breadth and scope, meeting so many AFGE activists from so many different Agencies from all over the country.

Winter Weather

On December 15, Local 2505 filed a Section 10 grievance with the Regional Commissioner on SSAís failure to sand and salt parking lots and sidewalks timely.

Dear RC Schuenemeyer:

By this letter, AFGE Local 2505 files a Section 10 grievance.

Today, December 12, 2008 neither the Tulsa nor the Miami nor the Muskogee Oklahoma Social Security Field Offices had a delayed opening. The driveways, sidewalks and parking lots of both offices were covered in ice. They were neither salted nor sanded.

This violates Article 9, Section 4. This violates Article 1, Section 1 as SSA is failing to enforce the building leases with the landlords of the Tulsa and Miami Oklahoma Social Security Field Offices.

The public, the elderly and disabled as well as our own mobility impaired employees on crutches who must hazard the slick parking lot and sidewalks. The Muskogee parking lot wasnít salted until lunch time As I write this, shortly after 3 PM, the parking lot and sidewalk in Tulsa STILL has not been salted or sanded.

When I arrived this morning, it took me almost 5 minutes to get in the gate because I had to back out into the street to get a running start at the slight incline into the employee parking lot. Every time I was ready to go, the electric gate began to close. (If you can visualize it and it isnít you, it would be pretty funny to watch and rather Chaplinesque).

The Union wishes to make an oral presentation of this grievance. I will be the Unionís representative.

The remedy the Union seeks is that in future snow and ice situations in Miami, the offices will have a DELAYED OPENING until management can verify that the driveways, sidewalks and parking lots have been plowed and/or salted and/or sanded as appropriate.

In order to prepare the Unionís oral presentation, please provide me [pursuant to 5 USC 7114(b)(4)] with a copy of the complete leases for the Tulsa and Miami offices. Obviously, the Unionís particularized need for the leases is to demonstrate that the lease requires the driveways, parking lots and sidewalks to be cleaned, plowed, salted and sanded prior to the arrival of the employees and the public.

Thank you!

/s/

Ralph C. de Juliis

AFGE Local 2505

Winter Weather Advice from Jim Campana, 2nd Vice President, AFGE Council 220:

Just a reminder that the National Agreement has various provisions for when travel conditions make you tardy to, or absent from, work. The provisions are in Article 31 of the National Agreement.

--Article 31, Section 3.A, is a catch-all excused-absence provision: Infrequent tardiness of less than one hour shall normally be excused if the reasons are acceptable. So, if you normally get to work on time, but, on occasion, are delayed for an "acceptable" reason, and the reason makes you get to work after your latest flex-in time (but no more than an hour after that time), put in a leave slip for Other, and write "Excused absence" and the reason in the Remarks section (e.g., "Car wouldn't start," or, "Plumbing problem at home," or, "Child-care provider called in sick"). This one could also be used for "Hazardous road conditions," but it is not the only one for that reason.

--Section 3.E.7 has a number of provisions for when the weather is bad, but the office is open anyway. If you are delayed no more than two hours, put in for administrative leave, and write "Hazardous weather" in Remarks. Your supervisor may ask for some more information about what happened, but the administrative leave should be approved. For that matter, in "extreme circumstances," you can be excused up to a full day, so put in for that, too, if you are snowbound, or the roads are ice, or whatever, and the plow and/or salt trucks do not get around in time for you to get in at all.

--The National Agreement no longer speaks of multiple days, but sometimes the weather gets really bad, and the union believes that there is a past practice regarding that kind of very bad weather also (and/or that subsection 7 starts over again when the sun comes up on a new day and/or that fair and equitable treatment applies here). The rule should be, if hazardous weather or an emergency keeps you from work, put in for excused absence or administrative leave, and contact the union if your request is denied.

--Section 3.F contains a special provision for employees with mobility impairments. Management has to take these into account in order to, at times, grant excused absence even though non-impaired employees might have been able to make the trip in.

If you have already put in for leave, but now think that you should not have been charged personal leave for one reason or another, you can put in an amended leave slip. If it is denied, see your union rep.

If you have any questions, please contact your Local Rep.

What about Awards?

No Federal Agency can give awards when they are operating under a continuing resolution. SSA wonít get a budget until President Obama takes office and the new Congress is seated. Hopefully, weíll have a budget and awards in the early spring.

Elimination of Time in Grade for Promotions

Whenever you look at a Vacancy Announcement, youíll see that there is a time in grade requirement. In other words, you canít apply for a GS-14 District Manager position until you have been a GS-13 for at least a year at sometime during your tenure as a Federal employee.

New regulations go into effect in March eliminating that requirement. Once implemented, there is no stopping management from hiring friends and family as clerical employees and promoting them to GS Ė 9 CRs without first promoting them to an SR. As long as an employee has the specialized experience, SSA could promote a GS 4 clerical right to a District Manager.

(Editorís note: Considering some of the DMs with whom I tangled over the years, this really might not be such a bad thing!)

I know that many of our new FCIP hires, fresh out of training are eager for their next promotion. UhÖthis isnít going to help you.

A Federal Career Intern Program hire has a TWO YEAR probationary period. You can get within grade increases (step); you can get a career ladder promotion to the next grade; you can join AFGE (you SHOULD join AFGE). You canít get a transfer; you canít get a hardship reassignment; you canít be promoted. If you look at your SF-50, it states you are EXCEPTED SERVICE. Until you have successfully completed two years and are converted to CAREER CONDITIONAL, this rule change will not change your status: you cannot be promoted.

Regional AFGE Meeting

Local President Ralph de Juliis, Secretary-Treasurer Magda Mashburn and 2nd Vice President Mary Roberts attended a meeting of Council 220 Dallas Region in Albuquerque the week of December 11.

Council 220 Dallas Region was formed when virtually every district office cluster in the region was its own local. Most locals had fewer than 50 members and no money to do any employee representation. Since then, through consolidation, the number of SSA-AFGE Locals has shrunk to seven locals, with the smallest four having about 140 members in bargaining units of less than 300 and three large locals with slightly fewer than 500 members in bargaining units of 1,000. The locals also have dues structures that provide adequate money for the locals to visit their offices and do employee representation. The dues in each local vary. The dues range from $11.25 to $15.50 a pay period. $.60 per member per month still goes into the coffers of Council 220 Dallas Region in addition to the $1.00 which goes to national Council 220 and the additional special assessment imposed by Council 220. That is on top of the per capita the Local pays to National Office on each member.

The meeting in Albuquerque was held to quell the complaints from Local 2505 that Council 220 Dallas Region had no conference calls, no elections, no meetings, no grievances, no bargaining demands, no arbitrations, no unfair labor practices, no regular communications with the member Locals about regional activities, no nothing since 2004, except bills to the locals to fund the travel by others to cool places like Washington, DC New Orleans and Las Vegas. Local 2505 proposed that Council 220 Dallas Region be dissolved since it wasnít doing anything and that the $40,000 in its coffers be refunded to the Locals that paid the money in the first place.

Nothing was resolved at the meeting in Albuquerque except (1) to ask AFGE National if the Council 220 Dallas Regional Executive Council really had to hold elections, (2) to ask AFGE National what constitutes a quorum and (3) to pay for everyone to travel to Las Vegas in January for another meeting!!

Training on Formal EEO hearings was provided to the attendees. That highlighted another of Local 2505ís complaints: wasting money on training for people who arenít likely to use the training. Only four locals sent their President, the only one who can vote since designees arenít allowed to vote. Of the attendees, only Local 2505 President Ralph de Juliis has ever represented an employee at an EEO Hearing.

One local bragged that it never went beyond the EEO Counseling stage; after failed EEO Counseling, it handed all its EEO over to the AFGE District Representative. Another Local said that when its AFGE District Representative was unable to represent an employee at a scheduled EEO Hearing, the Local let the employee go by herself. (Do we have to say things didnít turn out well)?

Really: why did the attendees need EEO Hearing training if they havenít, donít and donít plan to represent employees in formal EEO Hearings?!

We should mention here that we believe in training Union officers and reps. Secretary-Treasurer Magda Mashburn attended Financial Officers Training in Chicago where she got hands on training and met the National Officers. Above, we reported on the Arbitration Training attended by 2nd VP Mary Roberts. But for scheduling conflicts, Executive Vice President Carol Lewis and 1st VP Mitzi Brooks would have gone to training by the Federal Labor Relations Authority in Dallas. LP Ralph de Juliis attended multi-district training several years ago. (He missed the District Training he had personally paid to attend in 2006 because he had a heart attack. He is still trying to get AFGE District to live up to its promise to refund his registration fee. Do you think he should give up?) Some of our Local Reps have attended Health and Safety training in Hot Springs.

Why arenít we complaining about those? Because we sent our Local people and our Local paid for it. If the other Locals wanted to send their people and pay for it with their own funds, we wouldnít complain. We complain because they send their Local people, to learn and benefit their Local members but we are subsidizing their trips out of the Regional money to which we contribute over $1,000 a year.

Having made clear our complaints, the Regional meeting in Albuquerque wasnít a total waste of time. The instructor, AFGE 10th District National Representative Henry Mesa is an experienced and effective employee advocate. His best tip was something that Local 2505 already knows: get the Union involved and get them involved EARLY. EEO complaints are often won on the merits and it takes time and preparation. EEO Complaints cause management to do and say things which any reasonable person would call reprisal and retaliation. Those "spin off" charges which are incorporated into the original complaint are often where the Union and the employees prevail, when the merits are not so clear cut. For instance, a woman in another Federal Agency complained about sex discrimination. She lost because management proved it was personal favoritism for the relative of another member of management, NOT sex discrimination, which led to her non-selection. It is much harder for management to lie or weasel its way out of reprisal and retaliation allegations. Without early Union involvement, the employee may not see the reprisal or may just get worn out.

His second best tip was to read everything from the EEO Administrative Judge carefully so that time frames for pre-hearing submissions and conference calls arenít missed.

We also found out that the other SSA-AFGE Locals who get more official time than we do, one of whom has higher dues than Local 2505, no longer does a newsletter or has a web site because they donít get enough official time under this contract. We are good and do more than larger locals with more money--even if we have to say so ourselves J !

There was also "training" on grievances: donít forget to include the section as well as the article which management violated in the grievance; and, merit promotion: management settles merit promotions with priority considerations which it ignores when employees exercise them. Our Local gave "training" on Article 6, which was check your membership lists because you canít trust SSA not to screw up membership withholding adds and drops and transfers. (We thought you might find it amusing the Union also works lists and gripes lists must be checked and worked regularly)!

Having endured one meeting, Secretary-Treasurer Mashburn and 2nd VP Roberts declined to go to the January 12th meeting in Las Vegas. LP de Juliis is planning to attend the Regional meeting scheduled for Monday and not meetings planned by Council 220 Nationally for the rest of the week. He has an OWCP hearing scheduled for Wednesday, January 14th.

The Local 2505 officers are of one mind regarding the Regional Executive Committee of Council 220 Dallas Region: it has outlived its purpose and usefulness. The Local has filed internal Union charges regarding the Regional Executive Committee of Council 220 Dallas Region with settlement being its dissolution, cessation of the $.60 per member per month charge to each local and disbursing its funds back to the constituent locals. AFGE National delegated the charges back to the Council and one Local. Nothing has been done. The Local has exercised its statutory rights and has escalated the charges up to the Department of Labor, Office of Labor Management Standards. Weíll probably still be waiting for results when we do our holiday newsletter in 2009.

Workerís Comp Problems

Above, we spoke about getting the Union involved and keeping the Union informed so we could add in reprisal and retaliation as it occurred to the original grievance. Here is a case in point. An employee was injured on the job. The employee got wrong forms from management. Management gave her a hard time. The employee requested continuation of pay. (If injured on the job, an employee does NOT have to use sick leave for up to 45 days; they can get continuation of pay.) A month later, when the employee is checking on status, management tell her that RO told the ADM to deny her request for COP. The employee asks for it in writing. The ADM says RO said NOT to put anything in writing. (A sure sign SSA is doing something wrong)! After Christmas when the employee doesnít get a pay check, she speaks with the DM who tells her that the DM will NOT let the employee substitute Annual Leave for LWOP!! To add insult to injury, the DM says her hands are tied since the employee sought third party assistance (i.e., came to the Union and filed a grievance). THAT is reprisal and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The first protected activity is filing an OWCP claim and requesting COP. The second protected activity is contacting the Union. What we have here is a failure to communicate! Obviously, this manager wasnít listening to the No Fear Act Video about SSA being a discrimination and reprisal free workplace! (See article below regarding the No Fear Act Video).

Letís review: management wonít pay the employee; the employee complains; management tells the employee it is her fault for going to the Union. Hey! Where did this all start? With managementís refusal to pay the employee! If management wanted to do the right thing, it would have paid the employee COP. It refused to do so and is telling the employee who suffered a traumatic, on-the-job injury that it is their fault for not coming to work injured and for not taking NO PAY for an answer. Managementís hands arenít tied by the grievance. The grievance gives them another opportunity to rethink their venality and stupidity and do the right thing!

Management always has the opportunity to do the right thing by the employee. They didnít; they donít; they wonít. Donít believe them when they tell you that they had a change of heart and want to do the right thing and canít because the Union is involved. The only reason they looked at your problem again was because of the grievance. (See the previous Article, Settlements, about Maternity Leave).

By the way, the grievance has been amended to include reprisal, retaliation and intentionally trying to put the word out to employees that exercising their protected rights to file OWCP and grievances is a waste of time. The Councilís National Health and Safety representative, Howard Egerman, has kicked the issue up to his counterpart Central Office. It will NEVER be a waste of your time to exercise your rights with AFGE Local 2505 around!!

PRESIDENTíS MESSAGE

Commissioner Astrue told the Nation Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives:

The budgetary situation is grave. The Agency will operate under the Continuing Resolution until March 2009. Commissioner Astrue stated that the Agency really has no independence with respect to its budget. Commissioner Astrue stated that there was a 1-3 hiring freeze in the Agency and a 1-1 replacement in ODAR. The Agency will hire 70 FTEs in FY09.

So, things are going to get worse. Do NOT let the pressure wear you down and wear you out! As usual, there will be too much work and too few of us to do the work. Normally, management responds by driving us harder. Our reaction should NOT be to duck and run for cover. Our reaction should be that we are going to work as hard as we always work. We are paid to work 40 hours a week and we give them 110% every day. That won't change and their haranguing us will only distract us. Considering that the Field will only replace 1 of us for every three that leave, I think they should think less of driving us to do more with less and more like superstars with big, fat contracts. If we don't perform because they don't treat us nicely, because of salary caps, they really can't replace us. So, rather than drive us (to drink and to anti-depressants), they should motivate us and nurture us!

Instead, we end up with UNIT MEETINGS. When management knows the end result -- new targets and goals, more work because of retirements, illness, maternity leave, pulling experienced people off regular work to mentor (and probably not offering the mentoring assignments to every experienced employee, only their favorites) -- is going to make employees unhappy, they often decide the meeting is a "formal discussion" and invite the Union. The only thing that NEVER changes at SSA is the fact that there is ALWAYS change.

Honestly, if y'all are happy with the work assignments, back up assignments, work distribution, etc., the Union is happy. If you aren't, you really need to let us know why you aren't happy, because that is not going to be apparent at the unit meeting (unless you start throwing shoesÖand then, assignment of work is not our most pressing concern)!

Let me tell you some of the things individuals have complained about: not being rotated and feeling burned out; not being rotated / trained on specialized workloads and then not getting promoted (and/or a temporary 120 day, non-competitive detail to a GS 12), not getting an award, getting a smaller award than co-workers, being dissatisfied with the number of 5 ratings on appraisals, being able to work overtime, etc.

Those are not the issues that are best addressed at unit meetings, though the work you're assigned can certainly impact all of those things. If you think that the work assignments, back up assignments, work distribution are not fair, I'd be happy to talk to your supervisor about what is bothering you and what you'd like changed. If we are happy with the final outcome, the Union won't leave you dangling in the wind; the Union can request bargaining or we can file a grievanceÖbut we are getting WAY ahead of ourselves.

I've heard that in other offices, CRs have been asked to commit to clearing a certain number of cases every week. UhhhÖI would REALLY try to avoid that. All of you work very hard; none of you has ever been accused of goofing off to my knowledge. Still, how many cases you can actually clear depends on how messy the claim is, who calls in sick or takes leave. It depends on what other crisis workloads may arise, what other offices are doing that may result in a suspension of certain workloads (like clearing RZs), what kind of decisions come out of the court on various class action law suits, etc.

 

There will be a lot ofÖwhat is the euphemism Ö CHALLENGES this year: continuing resolution until March, 2009; virtually no hiring, 1 for 3 replacement in the field, experienced employees retiring, maternity leave, trainees needing mentoring, etc. As Eisenhower said, "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of 'emergency' is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning." [Speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (1957-11-14)]

So, we make plans and try to anticipate every contingency BUT, as soon as we open the front doors in the morning, the plan is out the window and we are flying by the seat of our pants with whomever of us showed up for work that dayÖdespite what we thought had been agreed at the Unit Meeting!

Feel free to let me know if you have problems with anything you hear and what your assignments are!

Ralph de Juliis, President,

 

A Member Drops

We lost a member because she disagreed with my interpretation of leave roster (Article 31).

The employee told management she wanted to exercise her leave roster option for the day after Thanksgiving. She was denied the day off. Subsequently, an employee who got the day off, canceled. Another employee found out first, put in for it and got the day off. The disgruntled employee said that management should have offered her the day off because she had originally requested it and been denied.

You know I am LOATHE to ever state for the record that management acted correctly or followed the contract. I didnít become a Union President to be a shill for SSA management! But, in this case, management did follow the contract. The contract says outside the two periods, first come Ė first served; NOTHING about giving the right of first refusal to those previously denied if a cancellation occurs.

I was a negotiator on the contract. I told that to the rep who told the employee. I didnít tell that to management. I also prepared a grievance for this disgruntled employee. Yes, they had a good case: it was unfair for the time keeper to play favorites and tell only one person about the cancellation! (Article 3, Section 2.A) Management should have been told and told all the employees at the same time.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the disgruntled employee said she didnít want the day off anyway; she just wanted the courtesy and respect of being asked first and graciously permitting her co-worker have the day off? So, what do you think? Should this employee have dropped out of the Union?

No Fear Act Video

Having watched the No Fear Video, there are a few things I want to bring to your attention from my perspective since I have represented many employees in EEO counseling, EEO formal complaints, EEO grievances and filing complaints with the Office of the Special Counsel.

First, about the EEO and grievance process: It is correct you can't file both on the same incident. BUT, requesting EEO Counseling is NOT filing an EEO Complaint. An EEO Complaint is a formal complaint that is filed with Central Office. Before you can file a formal EEO Complaint, you must request EEO Counseling. Once you get the Final EEO Counselor's Report, it is usually your choice to file a Grievance or to file a Formal EEO Complaint. (Article 24, Section 8).

If you are a probationary employee, EEO is the only way to go. (You could also file a formal Unfair Labor Practice charge in some circumstances). If youíre a regular employee, you brought your problem to the Union and we can't look at it and get you to sign something within 15 workdays (the regular grievance time frame), we can request EEO Counseling because we have 45 calendar days in which to do that. My personal preference would be to get the final EEO Counseling Report and then, we have another chance to enter the grievance process.

Y'all may not be aware of the EEO Counseling requested by 8 female CRs in Poteau, OK. The DM retired so SSA refused to offer any remedy. SSA wouldn't even admit the manager was at fault, but, instead blamed the MSS!! When we were discussing the final EEO Counseling Report, I said that if SSA was claiming it was all the fault of the MSS and the MSS was still there, they should offer a remedy, n'est-ce pas? CREO mumbled, "Oh." and said they had no authority to settle anything. .

INTERESTING: the SSA Regional Level Organization charged with handling EEO Counseling has NO AUTHORITY TO SETTLE ANYTHING. So, SSA has set up a process for handling complaints of discrimination that can't be resolved absent your giving up. If you want my opinion, and I'm sure you do, is seems that if SSA was truly committed to elimination of discrimination in the workplace, SSA would not have emasculated the Regional level organization charged with processing requests for EEO Counseling!

The same problem has occurred in the ADR session in which the Union has participated. SSAís representative showed up at the ADR to "settle" award and non-selection EEO complaints with an offer of more work so the employee would be in a better situation next time awards / promotions were an issue. Against the Unionís advice, one of the three employees agreed to accept that proposal. The mediator wrote up the agreement and management REFUSED to sign it. It seems the management representative had no authority to agree to the very language he had proposed. After waiting over two hours for Regional Office to give the go-ahead, the employee changed her mind.

In another ADR, management offered the employee a meeting with the district manager to discuss behavior of the operations officer to which the employee objected. What kind of offer is that?! When does a manager ever refuse to listen to an employee gripe about some other member of the management team?! (Listening does NOT mean agreeing or taking action). Doesnít every manager have an open door policy?

Out of the five EEO ADR to which SSA agreed to participate with an employee represented by this Local, one resulted in a priority consideration which SSA subsequently honored. It is better than nothing but not the great thing SSA portrays in the No Fear Act Video.

The NO FEAR ACT Video spoke of protecting employees from a hostile work environment. It's not that easy. When you try to talk to an EEO Counselor, they cut you off and don't want to hear or write anything that did not happen within the 45 days prior to your requesting EEO Counseling. The EEO Counselor wants to focus ONLY on the single incident --the straw that broke the camel's back-- which caused you to request EEO Counseling. So, you represent yourself; you go formal. Guess what? Your complaint is going to be DENIED because ONE INCIDENT DOES NOT PROVE a hostile work environment. BUT, SSA won't listen to you explain what has happened for the past several months or years because it is out of the 45 day period!!

I cannot emphasize enough that the EEO and OSC are NOT designed to assist you; they are designed to protect the government; they are designed to give you so many hurdles to overcome that you give up in frustration!

THAT is why you should contact a Union Officer or Representative as soon as you are unhappy about something!

The Union is currently representing an employee in a reprimand / hostile work environment EEO Counseling. (One example: the DM "counseled" the employee to park straight in the middle of the parking space and told her that no one in the office liked her). When contacted by the EEO Counselor, he refused to speak to the EEO Counselor pending advice from RO.

AH HA! SSA RO is representing managers accused of discrimination. The same people who are running the EEO program in RO? They do NOT represent you; ONLY the Union does.

Anyway, after repeated follow ups, SSA still has not issued a final EEO counseling report. I guess the No Fear Act caveat about discipline for failing to cooperate doesnít apply to managers. The Union has amended the requested remedy in that matter to include discipline for the District Manager and monetary damages for the employee because such behavior has a "chilling effect" on employeesí exercising their protected rights.

Third, about the Office of the Special Counsel and their protecting Whistleblowers and protecting you from Prohibited Personnel Practices. They are worthless. Okay, you want to hear more. Our Local won reinstatement of a probationary employee. The arbitrator found that management fired her because she asked for Union representation. With the win and the arbitrator finding reprisal and retaliation for engaging in protected activities (a prohibited personnel practice), I went to the Office of the Special Counsel.

The OSC said they werenít going to do anything since the Union went to arbitration.

In another situation, the Union went to OSC because management is constantly hiring relatives. The OSC refused to do anything as long as they hire some other manager's relatives, not their own and they said step relationships don't count anyway. The OSC is charged with protecting the sanctity of merit promotion. The Union complained about manipulation in the merit promotion system: we were blown off. (Those documents are posted on the Local 2505 Website in Representation).

In another instance, when the Union found a situation in which management pulled the BQ list because the pre-selectee was two weeks short of time in grade (spoiler alert-that won't be a problem after March 9, 2009), we advised the employee to file a grievance and not to bother with the OSC.

So, honestly, the NO FEAR ACT is the short title. The longer title, which really explains what the Act is all about in more detail, should be HAVE NO FEAR! WE WON'T EVER ACT OR FIND MANAGEMENT GUILTY OF ANYTHING!

The Union has LOST appraisal and award grievances for employees. The Union has lost formal EEO non-selection complaints. The NEXT year, the employees got higher appraisals, awards, temporary, non-competitive promotions and permanent promotions. We know our stuff and we donít always have to win to get the employee the remedy they seek!

If you don't believe you're being treated right, if youíre in a fight, you want US on your side and out in front!

You can always put your trust in the OSC which is working a list like you have and wants to clear cases as fast as possible. You can put your trust in an SSA EEO Counselor who is a regular employee like yourself who is squeezing this in between interviews. You can take that final EEO Counseling Report to Central Office, whose job it is NOT TO GET JUSTICE FOR YOU but whose job it is to MINIMIZE SSA's EXPOSURE TO FINANCIAL LIABILITY.

As Dan says at the conclusion of the video: "Time for me to hit the golf course!" His interest and commitment truly reflect SSA's commitment to ensuring a workplace free from discrimination and prohibited personnel practices. They went through the motions; now, it's time to play golf.

If SSA were really looking out for you, you wouldn't need training on the NO FEAR ACT. SSA isn't looking out for you; AFGE is! They built us tough because we sail in harm's way.

Legislative Action

PAY RAISE FOR FEDERAL WORKERS

From AFGE National Office: The nation's largest union of federal employees, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), today thanked President Bush for signing an executive order giving a 3.9 federal pay raise for Federal employees. Congress earlier this year passed the pay raise, which AFGE supported.

"Despite the incredible obstacles placed against them during the Bush administration, federal workers still managed to provide superior public service to Americans. Federal civilian workers support our troops overseas, issue Social Security compensation, inspect our food and provide regulations to protect our workplaces, our environment and our drinking water. These dedicated public servants most certainly deserve a pay increase," said AFGE National President John Gage.

BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD AND OPM RESCIND CERTAIN BENEFIT CUTS FOR 2009

From AFGE National Office: In a letter to the American Federation of Government Employees, Blue Cross/Blue Shield announced a new benefit structure for 2009 that will "restore the cost-sharing our members expect from us, and a service that will preserve the right to use non-participating providers while providing our members with information to help avoid unexpectedly large bills from non-participating providers."

"According to the revised Standard Option, enrollees will no longer have to pay the first $7,500 for every treatment or surgery provided by an out of network provider," explained Jacque Simon, AFGE director of public policy. "However, the enrollee will have to pay thirty percent of BCBSís Ďallowanceí for each service plus 100 percent of the balance if the provider charges a higher price than the Ďallowance.í"

For example, if an enrollee had a service performed by an out-of-network provider and the charge was $2,500, under the terms BCBS just retracted, the enrollee would have had to pay the entire $2,500. Now, the enrollee will have to pay thirty percent of the $2,500 or $750 as long as the allowance is the full $2,500. If the allowance is just $2,000, the enrollee has to pay thirty percent of $2,000 or $600 plus the full $500 over the allowance for a total of $1,100. In 2008, BCBS paid 75 percent of the allowance, for 2009 they will pay just 70 percent.

"While this partial retraction by Blue Cross/Blue Shield is better than what was originally accepted by OPM, the bottom line is that it is still a decrease in benefits for our members as compared to the level of coverage in 2008. We are encouraged that OPM and BCBS have responded to the outrage expressed by our members and Congressional leaders at the drastic reductions in the Standard Optionís benefits."
"Given the enormous premium increases for 2009, and the continued cost shifting to enrollees, we think OPM could have done a much better job of negotiating on our behalf," concluded Simon. "If most of this benefit cut could be cancelled, all of the benefit cut could have been cancelled. OPM is still letting BCBS get away with changes that are entirely unjustified. AFGE has more than four million members enrolled in this plan and we will continue to fight for a voice in the annual negotiations over benefits and process."

AFGE LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE NEXT MONTH

The Council 220 Legislative Action Committee (LAC) has proposed that SSA-AFGE Locals who travel to Washington DC to attend the February AFGE National Legislative Conference lobby Congress on the AFGE-SSA White Paper, which contains all SSA specific issues except for SDW issues. Additionally, LAC volunteered to talk to Congress and the advocacy groups on iClaims problems.  iClaims will be the primary focus because SSA will be releasing its publicity campaign about the same time as the Legislative Conference.

The issues which AFGE National Office usually emphasizes for Locals and activists attending the Legislative Conference are COLAs, TSA, A-76, VA and such.

OIG Interviews

(Please note that if YOU sent a referral on a claimant or payee to OIG and they are phoning you, that is a totally different situation!)

When you are called into a meeting with management or the OIG and you are asked if you want a Union Rep:

FIRST: Tell OIG and / or management that you want a Union Rep!!

(Do NOT play games with them!! Don't ask them what this is all about first. You let ME do that when I get there. Rule of thumb: when management asks you if you want a Union Rep, they have something VERY BAD in store for you; you NEED a Union Rep!!!)

In Local 2505 and Harrison, AR (where I am the off-site Union Representative), I have named myself as the Union Representative for ALL investigations, Weingarten Interviews and OIG Investigations. (See my email to RO below).

[By the way, I have great confidence in all our reps! We have not had much official time in which to give our reps a lot of training in this area. This is a somewhat specialized and complex area; AND, well, it is pretty intimidating to be in a room where the two people sitting across the table from you are carrying 9mm Glocks with 15 round magazines and you are unarmed; they accuse you of lying and refer to documents that they won't show you. I totally understand why none of them want to be the Union Rep in such circumstances!

SECOND, if you feel intimidated and feel that you MUST talk to them without a Union Representative present, say, "I wish to remain silent until I can speak with an attorney." Then, call your Local President to find an attorney for you from the AFGE Member Legal Referral Service. Again, the investigation / interview will have to be delayed. ALWAYS have the meeting between you, OIG and your attorney at your attorney's office!!!!

Another OIG trick is to IGNORE your request for a Union Rep and /or attorney and say you are not the target of the investigation; therefore, you must answer their questions and talk to them or you could be fired for failing to cooperate. That is TRUE BUT what they forgot to tell you is that you do not have to talk to them until you have a Union Rep and / or an attorney. Look, we have members who are facing removal and suspensions of 90 and 120 days because they talked to OIG. They were NOT the subject of a criminal investigation but SSA feels they should have been more careful and diligent. Furthermore, you are never required to sign the statement they provide to you. Talk to them, ultimately, yes you have to talk to them. Sign the summary they give you? NO!

Technically, you cannot have a Union Rep and an attorney present at the same time. Get one of us there!!

THIRD: If you have taken the above two steps and they still pressure you to talk to them, as is stated above: Don't sign any statement. If you are ordered to sign a statement, sign "I was ordered to sign this statement and I disagree with the contents".

I would also add right over your signature: "I requested Union representation. I said I did not wish to speak to them until I had an attorney present. They told me I had to meet with them and answer their questions without a Union Representative or Attorney here."

It is very important that you EXERCISE your rights. It makes the Union's job of representing you MUCH more difficult if you don't exercise your rights and have some one present who has had a bit of experience in these matters and who is not as intimidated as you are certainly going to feel!!

Below is the advice below from Council 220 regarding how to protect yourself in management and OIG investigations.

From: Estudillo, Charles

Subject: Weingarten Interviews

A Weingarten situation occurs when there is an "examination" (questions are asked) in an "investigation" (management is investigating possible wrongdoing) and the employee has a "reasonable belief" that disciplinary action could occur to the employee being questioned. What you say in that interview could result in a suspension or even you getting fired.

When this happens the following steps should be followed, whether it is an SSA management investigation or whether it is the OIG asking the questions (note: OIG agents are a "representative of the agency" and your right to representation accrues. See 5 U.S.C. 7114(a)(2)(b):

Don't answer any questions until you have been provided with a union representative designated by your Local President. This is the right of the union to be present. You as a federal employee have the right to an attorney (you are responsible for any costs of an attorney). You have the right to ask what the basic purpose of the investigation is and they have to tell you (illegal systems access, fraud, etc.).

State that you insist on the presence of the union representative designated to represent in Weingarten interviews. This may or may not be the representative in your office.

If management claims you are not cooperating, state you will cooperate once representation is afforded. Remember, the union assigns the rep, not management. Remember there are many innocent people in jail who got railroaded.

If you wish, you can assert your right to an attorney.

Don't sign any statement. If you are ordered to sign a statement, sign "I was ordered to sign this statement and I disagree with the contents". Do not allow yourself to be intimidated into signing a statement. Management or the OIG ordering you or putting pressure on you to answer questions without your union representative or signing a statement is coercion. Copy any statement before giving it to management or the OIG should you be intimidated into signing. You can always provide a statement that you have written in consultation with the union and/or attorney.

If the OIG is asking the questions, beware that criminal charges are a possibility and you are not required to answer questions that could result in criminal penalties. The OIG must give you a guarantee that your answers will not be used against you in any criminal proceeding. (This is called "use immunity"). You are well advised to have an attorney and a union rep present. Whoever is with you in the questioning should write down word for word what the guaranteed waiver of criminal prosecution is, copy it and give it to the OIG agents for their review.

Once criminal prosecution is waived by the OIG, you are required to answer questions. If you refuse, you could be fired. You only have to give "yes" and "no" answers. Be truthful, if you lie, you could be fired for lying even though the original offense might have only merited a suspension. If you don't understand a question, state you don't understand. Only answer if you understand fully: don't guess or try to answer a question you don't fully understand.

Your union rep or attorney can clarify confusing questions and restate answers you have already given. Remember some agencies use questioning tactics that attempt to confuse and elicit contradictory answers. Stay calm, try not to get rattled.

Local 2505 has told management that Local President Ralph de Juliis will be the representative at ALL OIG / Weingarten Meetings AND that he had better have advanced notice because he wants to be present and he is between 1 and 3 hours away our furthest offices from his duty station in Tulsa. Remember to maintain your silence and exercise your rights and demand that LP de Juliis be present before you say anything.

Was Your Property Damaged or Stolen at SSA?

The gate to the employee parking area in one of our offices closed on an employeeís truck. When the DM was told, the DM replied, "Well, the gateís not supposed to do that."

The employee came to the Union. When your personal property is damaged or stolen at SSA, you can file a TORT claim. The forms and procedures may be found on the Intranet at work:

http://ssahost.ba.ssa.gov/AIMS/fmm.cfm GO TO FFM 06.01 (Processing claims filed against SSA under the Federal Tort Claims Act)

Vacancy Announcements and Your 45

Several employees have asked the Union to review their SSA 45. We would be happy to do so. Here is a list of some common items you should do: (1) a Spell check. (2) Look at the format. Why do you have different fonts and sizes? Why are some paragraphs bolded and others not? Why are lines skipped in the middle of a bulleted list? (3) Is your explanation of your job duties as a journeyman, the same as your job duties as a trainee, right out of training? (4) Do you list every job you had since you started to work at age 16? How does flipping burgers show you are qualified for an OS or MSS job? If you are going to put it down, at least read the Position Description for the job for which you are applying and try to find something in that old job that shows it prepared you for the job for which you are applying. (5) Do you list every outside activity you have ever had? Have you read the PD for the position for which you are applying? Does being an usher at your church really prepare you for an MSS job? It may, but if you donít explain it, no one is going to pay attention to it. It is just filler. (6) Are you listing a current part-time job? Did you remember to get SSAís approval in advance? Does the description of your job duties make it seem like a full time job in which you are providing detailed oversight and supervision of others? Really? How do you do that while you are at work? Donít overstate what you do to make the selecting official wonder how you have the time or energy to do your SSA job. If this outside job is really as great as you portray it to be, why arenít you working at it full-time if you are as successful as you claim to be? (7) Dealing with absences from the workforce is tricky. One hates to say "I was a stay-at-home-mom." But, as a guy, I can respect that. I am more uncomfortable reading that your job was a "domestic engineer" and you try to tell me how changing diapers, shopping, making dinner, cleaning house, doing laundry, talking to infants and toddlers and taking care of household repairs qualifies you to be a CR. A District Manager or Assistant District Manager, perhaps; but a CR? I donít know. The opinion of the Local 2505 Executive Board is mixed on this one. (8) When you put down your education, if you want the selecting official to understand how taking Business or English literature courses or Sociology or Accounting or Child Development classes has prepared you to be a CR or TE or MSS or OS or PAS, you should read those PDs and explain how each course relates to the skills SSA is seeking in employees it hires for those jobs.

PII and Systems Sanctions

FYI: I have declined to sign for the past several years. It has never been a confrontational situation. My supervisor simply notes on the forms that I declined to sign.

I'm representing an employee who was terminated (among other things) accessing the case of her hairdresser's premature baby when the mother asked for status. In our non-metropolitan services areas, it is really difficult not to know almost everyone if you grew up there! If you have had the same PE breakdown for a while, you "know" the folks in your breakdown. If you came to SSA from State Human Services or from a teaching job, you "know" a lot of the people who come in.

I've had employees complain to me about a particular co-worker, who when they are tired of interviewing, "knows" the person so he can slough off the interview. The excuse that irated the employee's co-workers the most was, "I know him from when we went to kindergarten." (YES!! Management let him get away with it!!)

I've also had employees complain to me that they were ordered by their manager to access their mother's record to change her address -- He wasn't the payee -- as she went in and out of a care facility to a hospital and back.

I would recommend that you NOT sign the PII or Systems Sanctions statements. Those documents are broad, vague and NOT intended to educate or protect YOU but to make it easy for management to punish you if, ex poste facto, they have a problem and need to blame someone.

Meeting Notice

AFGE Local 2505

Saturday,

January 24, 2009

Location:

BJ's Brew House

At Quail Springs Mall

2425 W Memorial, Oklahoma City

(If you need to call them for directions: 405-748-6770)

Time: 11:00 AM

Agenda

Call to Order

Secretaryís Report

Treasurerís Report

- Status: Rebate follow-up & Organizing Reimbursements

- 2009 Budget

Legislative Report

Litigation Report

New Business

-Merger with AFGE Local 3291

Unfinished Business

Adjournment

AFGE LOCAL 2505 Is Now On-Line @

http://www.afgelocal2505.org/

 

 

AFGE Local 2505 General Officers Contact Information

Ralph de Juliis - President

ralph.dejuliis@ssa.gov or ralph.de.juliis@sbcglobal.net

http://www.afgelocal2505.org/

Cell: 918-781-3096

Carol A. Lewis Ė Executive Vice President

carol.a.lewis@ssa.gov

Work: 918-423-1631 ext. 117

 

 

 

Magda Mashburn Ė Secretary - Treasurer

magda.mashburn@ssa.gov

Work: 405-605-3001 ext 3981

Mitzi Brooks Ė 1st Vice President

mitzi.brooks@ssa.gov

Work: 580-237-1664 ext. 202

Mary Roberts Ė 2nd Vice President

mary.roberts@ssa.gov

Work: 405-799-4140

 

 

AFGE Local 2505 Newsletter: JANUARY, 2009

Ms Magda Mashburn, Secretary-Treasurer

3837 Highpoint Court

Norman, Oklahoma 73072-5023