Letter to Nancy Berryhill, Acting SSA Commissioner

Dear Acting Commissioner Berryhill,

We are writing to you as bargaining unit employees out of grave concern that management has prematurely requested release to the Federal Service Impasse Panel during contract negotiations.  We are respectfully requesting that you send Social Security Administration (SSA) negotiators back to the table and bargain in good faith with our employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  SSA has a long tradition of having a model relationship with employees, a relationship we should all be proud of.  Yet now, SSA is requesting impasse over drastically damaging contract proposals that do not benefit the Agency, employees, or the public we serve.  We are particularly concerned about Agency proposals that place restrictions on necessary grievance topics, rollbacks on the popular benefit of telework, elimination of the needed Vision Program, and employee timely and efficient access to their union.

SSA’s proposal to deny employees the right to file grievances on performance discussions, ratings, awards, performance plans, and removals is dishonorable to them and devastating to morale.  Throughout the years, the Union and SSA have both demonstrated a need for these topics to remain in the grievance process. For example, every year for the last five years, AFGE has submitted a grievance requesting to make minority, disabled, and lower graded employees whole after Agency PACS rating data exposed unlawful discrimination and bias to these groups.  Your proposals will lead to increased unfair treatment, discrimination, and abuse of managerial discretion in SSA.  Aside from harming employees and their families, the Agency and taxpayers will lose their investment in SSA’s workforce.  No one wins if you strip employees of their basic rights and contract protections.

SSA’s unwillingness to further negotiate Telework is deeply disheartening to us as employees.  Your proposal that now leaves most of the decisions of telework up to the discretion of each Deputy Commissioner will cause uncertainty and chaos for the employees that utilize the benefit, managers that are tasked with administering it fairly and equitably, and the public who rely on operations to run smoothly. It also risks violating the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which Congress designed to maximize yearly telework participation in the Federal workforce.  Four years ago, you approved the historic commencement of the SSA Telework Pilot for field operations.  Since, the pilot has provided consistent guidance and structure for managers and employees in the field. The Agency’s proposal would tear up not only this, but also two decades of telework experience and benefits enjoyed by employees in hearing offices, the appeals council, and quality review offices alike.

Another important employee benefit we are asking you to save is the Vision Program. For thirty years, SSA has seen the value of reimbursing employees’ time and money for eye examinations and corrective lenses upon doctor and manager signature.  Currently, around 10,000 employees a year utilize this benefit to mitigate the harm and financial burden SSA’s equipment is causing them.  SSA has now decided to end this program to save money that will still be spent on worker’s compensation claims the Agency will have to process and pay.  Please preserve the Vision Program.  We need it.
Lastly, SSA’s proposal to drastically reduce union representational time and use of Agency space and equipment will make office environments less productive and disrupt public service.  In the words of a disabled military veteran, who serves as an SSA field office employee, “The union management relationship allows for crucial conversations to take place which brings a higher level of professionalism and peace to my office.  It saves everyone time.”  The Union also has an important role in offices to ensure the health and safety of employees.  They are trained to negotiate respectfully with management on behalf of the employees.  This creates an effective team that allows all to have a voice. 

Please accept our sincere request for the Agency to return and bargain with AFGE over the valuable rights and protections in the grievance process, the benefits of telework and the Vision program, and the ability for employees to have timely access to their union.  Please listen to the words of your workers and over 70 Federal lawmakers that have already asked you to return and bargain in good faith.  We ask that we all act with heart, for the good of the public we serve, and work out an agreement in house.

Thank you kindly,

Social Security Administration Bargaining Unit Employees

 

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