Federal Labor Relations Authority Regional Director Jessica Bartlett informed AALJ on October 31 that she had found sufficient evidence that the SSA had violated the rights of union officials during negotiations on its collective agreement. In a statement after the decision, AFGE President J. David Cox said the Social Security administration`s efforts to address dysfunctions, official time and telework are part of a broader effort within the Trump administration to castrate collective bargaining with federal authorities. In the end, the union was faced with a decision: drop all ongoing litigation regarding the SSA`s bargaining contract, which included two lawsuits and nine complaints, and negotiate with the Agency – or have the panel resolve the deadlock on the remaining articles of the existing AFGE contract. In the meantime, SSA has stated that it will begin implementing the provisions of the Chair`s personnel decisions under the second option. “Although the parties have been negotiating for a year, the Agency has not submitted any specific changes to the program they plan to make to the work unit of the tariff unit, which would affect eligibility for the telework program. While the Agency stated that they “may need flexibility to redirect further work,” the Agency did not propose any specific need to do so or any demonstration that the other work cannot be done during telework. Without details, the union did not have the opportunity to negotiate possible changes. Deepak Gupta, the lead counsel representing AALJ, said he hoped the vote on the May 4 collective agreement would be suspended, but Judge Amy Berman Jackson said any suspension of the vote would not go to court, but could be negotiated between the parties.
On 14 November, the Social Security Administration`s unilateral initiative to obtain an exclusive monopoly on worker telework was hampered by the federal Service Impasse Panels president noting that the Agency had not demonstrated a sufficient need for personnel change and had thus withdrawn the telework provisions from the Collective Agreement Consultation Office. “While the current FSIP has been particularly anti-union over the past two years, this decision confirms the fundamental standard that management cannot attempt to modify items that are negotiated properly and legally in a collective agreement, without specific evidence of why they need these amendments.” In addition, the collective agreement allows the union to file complaints about disputes related to an employee`s performance assessment or other matters – another activity that would have prevented the president from making personnel decisions. The agreement allows 20 union representatives to use no more than 840 hours of official time per year, meaning that these workers spend about 40% of their time on union activities and the remaining 60% can perform the tasks for which they were initially recruited. “This is part of an orchestrated attempt by the Trump administration to weaken unions and silence the voices of federal employees,” Cox said. “Every day, Social Security employees help Americans live their lives with financial security and human dignity as they age or become disabled.