The Social Security Administration has joined a growing list of federal agencies that are impeding the ability of unions to represent government workers and taking extreme positions in contract talks.
Angry members of Congress are stepping up their demands for answers.
“I cannot believe I have to send another letter asking Acting SSA Commissioner Berryhill to come back to the bargaining table and change her extreme bargaining position, which recent court cases show is illegal,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois said.
Nearly 160 of Schakowsky’s colleagues signed her April 26 letter to SSA, her second this year. Both letters decry the agency’s anti-union tactics and bad-faith bargaining with workers who assist the nation’s Social Security beneficiaries.
“We are deeply concerned that the Social Security Administration may have deliberately precipitated a breakdown in negotiations by insisting on proposals that are both extreme and similar in anti-union tone” to executive orders issued by President Trump in May 2018, the letter states.
Last August, a U.S. District Court judge struck down key provisions of the executive orders, which seek to derail due process for employees with performance issues, radically limit “official time” and workspace for union business, prohibit workers from communicating with Congress, and otherwise curtail federal workers’ long-established rights.
While the case is under appeal, agencies are barred from imposing the orders. But as the letter lays out, that hasn’t stopped SSA from evicting the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) from its “tiny offices” in the agency’s buildings; confiscating all computers, laptops and printers used by employees in their representational duties; and denying AFGE representatives the time to assist coworkers without management’s prior approval.
Rep. Nita Lowey, one of 158 House Democrats who signed the letter, said the administration and SSA are pursuing policies that “will harm the men and women who are working to ensure seniors receive their benefits. This blatant attempt to circumvent the decisions of a federal court must not stand.”
Another signatory, Rep. Rosa DeLauro said, “public servants deserve a fair negotiation process – not one that is rigged against them. Collective bargaining is a fundamental right for workers, and that right must not be undermined.”
Other agencies are behaving with similar hostility to their workers, whether directly related to the executive orders or other issues. Even the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority -- two agencies charged with upholding workers’ rights – are undermining their unions.
“Federal workers who protect our rights and our hard-earned benefits are under attack like never before, as if agencies think they don’t have to play by the rules anymore,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.
“We want our federal brothers and sisters to know that the IBEW stands with you and alongside our union allies in Congress in fighting back – now, and at the ballot box in November 2020.”