COUNCIL 216 NOTES
The Council Delegates met in advance of AFGE’s Legislative Conference. We began the meeting with a chance to hear from the Vice-Chair and Commissioner Silverman. The two agreed that there is a problem with the way information flows within the Commission in that the Commissioners are asked to make decisions without having access to and receipt of complete information. We also learned that the agency is threatening furloughs if enough individuals do not retire. (As usual, the agency chooses to balance its budget on the backs of the very people upon whom it relies to get the work done.)
In addition, in case you had not heard, at least some Commissioners are concerned about the lack of certain cases such as race and age throughout the field offices, particularly in certain parts of the country. As a result, there is an additional concern about the lack of litigation of these types of cases. The Council raised the problems with manipulation of numbers – closures, intake, mediation, federal sector - so that an office can reach its goals and look good, often to the detriment of the employees and the public we serve. We will be asking for information on the intake process in each office and having a follow-up call with the Vice Chair.
We learned that there is a new task force related to how best to handle systemic cases – both investigations and litigation. We will keep you posted on this.
The Council discussed better ways and strategies to serve members. Updates provided to the delegates include the following.
Performance Management Design team:
We continue to work on the performance plans. The work group met in Washington the week of January 31 through February 4, 2005. WE addressed a number of issues, including work on plans recently submitted to employees for comments. If someone did not receive a copy of the e-mail with the plans that I forwarded to Council Delegates for distribution, please contact me at email@example.com and I will forward them. Employees continue to raise issues concerning Outreach in the performance plans. This is included in most plans solely as an evaluation source. The reality is that if an employee does not perform outreach activities, there will be nothing from this source to add to the discussion of the employee’s performance. As for the evaluation form, the group is looking at the comments related to describing deficiencies and how best to address areas needing improvement. The performance work group also had a session with Dave Liss of the Office of Legal Counsel. We wanted to raise the issue of how we address the major elements in the plans and to see how long it will take them to conduct a legal sufficiency review. As for the major elements, there is a problem with trying to spell them out. If you do not spell them all out, the problem is that you have highlighted and essentially weighted some elements or activities. In response to the initial feedback inquiry, employees said that they did not want weighting. That is the reason the plans are generic. In addition, we the Union continue to fight the problem of placing duties in the evaluation that are not in the position description. Employees need to perform the duties in the position description. Several times throughout the process, the workgroup has asked for updated position descriptions. To date, no final updated position description has been provided to the performance management workgroup members. (Other management groups are working on the position descriptions.) Of course, when new positions descriptions are available, we will let you know and make them available.
The workgroup continues its work of creating and seeking input on various plans. The Workgroup will continue to update you on the issues you raise and our response. The work group did not set another meeting date, but the general plan was to meet once a month.
In the near future, the Union and management are going to resume the OFP calls on Thursday mornings. We are trying to schedule them for the same time - every other Thursday morning at 10:30 Eastern time. I want to resume scheduling various Locals to participate on these calls and will notify Delegates in advance when we would include them on the calls. The purpose of inviting locals to participate on the calls is to provide training and increase the participation on the calls by the Council. The invitation is for Council Delegates. If Local President’s want to include other members of their Executive Boards, that is acceptable. However, in most cases there will only be one call to the local, so you will need to get folks together in one office or conference them from your line. As far as agenda items, pleases get them to me the Tuesday before the scheduled call. That way, I have sufficient time to contact you if I need any clarification. 216 Notes will continue to come out after the calls.
STAFF DEVELOPMENT ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM
Announcements for the Staff Development Enhancement Program vacancies are out on Soars. Good luck to all who apply and thanks to those delegates who made the effort to ensure that offices within their locals submitted an application.
Call Center and Reorganization
I met with the Chair on Friday, February 4, 2005, to obtain an update on these two items. According to the Chair, she has on her desk, a final plan for reorganization. The Chair indicated that she wants more information. When asked when employees could expect a decision, the Chair indicated that she still is uncertain. The Chair indicated that perhaps she could have her final plan to the Commissioners by the March 8, 2005 staff meeting for headquarters and WFO employees. As usual, the agency will hold the meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The Chair recognized that the Commissioners will need to vote on changes to the structure and indicated that the Commissioners probably will want time to digest the packet and obtain information of their own. The Chair suggested that a public hearing might be useful. I encourage her to have one, but I am not certain that will happen, given that the Commissioners related that the
Chair felt there had been enough hearings on the issue.
On the call center, the Chair in her usual way, tried to appear surprised that the call center plan had not been released to the Union. Although the Chair indicated she would make sure we got it, to date, we are attempting to set up a phone conference. For the third time, the Union requested the plan and demanded to bargain. The Union also advised management that implementation must not take place until such time as the negotiations are complete.
As for the “pre pilot” of 3 offices – Charlotte, San Francisco and Dallas, I have heard the management in San Francisco will work on the “pre-pilot” in order to get around having to deal with the Union. The information on these activities has been forwarded to GAO and various Congressional staff for members of our appropriations committees and government reform committees. When the Council asks employees to follow-up with Congressional members, these are two important issues.
GAO AUDIT STATUS
The Council discussed the fact that the GAO auditors seemed to be slowing down. According to GAO, they will be visiting offices and talking to managers. In addition, they will be talking to employees. GAO has been provided the names, offices covered and phone numbers for the local presidents and contact information for GAO investigators was provided to all local Delegates for follow up as necessary. Although a final report is not due until late August or early September, we used the opportunity to lobby Congress to continue to address the problems with reorganization and the call center. In addition, the Council is searching for an organization to help us with conducting an evaluation of the call center, to track whether calls are transferred from local offices to the call center and whether callers received correct and complete information. It would be helpful if all of us asked the callers whether they called office directly and whether they talked to anyone at a call center or customer service center. This information undoubtedly will be useful in the future. It is important that we track this because more and more, there are rumors that the call center will take Intake form 283 information, and will contact witnesses for legal and enforcement. These are important parts of people’s jobs. If we do not track this jobs will be gone to the contact center, and these are jobs that are not even on the agency’s FAIR inventory.
We also discussed the GS-13 classification. With the call center coming on-line, this issue becomes even more important. Employees need to understand that the agency will wait forever. As the agency sends parts of these jobs to the call center, it is more important that ever that employees follow up with their Congressional representatives about the lack of fairness in the A-76 rules, which currently favor contractors.
Mike Davidson is working with AFGE to complete the Council’s challenge to the FAIR inventory. That is the document the agency must publish to announce those positions as inherently governmental or commercial, meaning the job can be contracted out. The inventory is available on-line in the Federal Register.
FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION CARDS
The Delegates also discussed the upcoming federal identification cards that all of us may soon be required to carry. The problems we foresee include tracking and monitoring of all activities at the workplace and beyond. The identification cards will also contain biometric data such as finger prints, a scan of your retina and/or handprints. The agency says it was briefed on the requirement to use this type of identification card, but does not have money for such an undertaking. If you are required to obtain a new identification card, please contact your Local President so we can stay on top of this issue. In addition, if you are being advised that you are being monitored – and it will come up in a conversation or written evaluation narrative indicating things like what time you entered your building or what time you signed on to your compute, r-, this is a red flag issue that you should report to your Local President or the Council President.
EEOC ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM EVALUATION
EEOC contracted a Maryland firm to evaluate its progress on its strategic plan. EEOC elected to begin with the enforcement process. This past week, some employees volunteered to participate on phone calls. Michael Davidson, Rachel Shonfield and I also spoke with the company. Issues were identified that cause problems – the call for numbers, manipulation of the numbers of charges taken in, the numbers of charges closed, litigation and cause findings, the transfer of cases, staffing levels and the abhorrent state of our technology - both phone and computers – were among the topics we discussed. After completion of the evaluation tool, the group will begin visiting offices late this month. We encouraged the contractors to visit offices of all sizes and particularly those away form the Washington area to get a more accurate picture of how field offices struggle.
NEW PERSONNEL RULES
The Council provided the delegates with information on the New Department of Homeland Security Personnel Regulations and (and pending National Security Personnel System Regulations). These regulations are the tip of the ice berg for agency flexibilities and contain many provisions that are very bad for the employees and the Union. Concerns include:
--Preponderance of evidence standards for
discipline and performance.
--Can litigate adverse actions.
--Cannot bargain assignment of work, or assignments;--Pay for performance can be grieved.
--There is consultation on virtually everything. Meaning after management hears what the Union has to say, it can implement whatever it wants however it wants;
--An arbitrator can mitigate an action if the action was wholly unjustifiable. (No one could figure out if this was correct, and, if it was, what it means.) It appears that the Douglas Factors are no longer applicable.
--The FLRA is there for unit determinations, but they will have a new labor board for negotiations, impasses and exceptions to arbitrations. Board decisions are appealable to court.
will be no more PIPs (they can do them, but they will not), and it
sounds like all or most performance issues will end up as discipline.
This is an issue that we must continue to address. This morning’s federal register contains additional information. You should discuss this in your meetings and send in comments to the identified individual. The greater the number of comments that have to be reconciled, the greater our chance that we can impact this type of flexibility. It is important that we address this plan as it is what we can expect if we decide to sit back because it does not apply to our agency right now. Every such personnel system implemented before EEOC decides to go that route makes it harder to challenge when it is our turn.
HEADQUARTERS and WFO STAFF MEETING
Everyone was notified of the agency Headquarters and WFO staff meeting to be held this year on March 8, 2005. I was invited to speak again and my comments will be posted on the Council’s website shortly after the presentation.
THE LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE:
The Council voted again this year to send at least one individual from each local to the AFGE Legislative conference. At least one person from at least six locals attended the AFGE Legislative Conference this year. You should contact your Local President to find out which members of Congress were contacted on your behalf. You should follow-up with those members to emphasize the importance of the points made on your behalf. The talking points we shared during our meetings will be posted on the Council’s website, to assist members in following up on these important issues.
The Council was asked to participate in two activities for the Legislative Conference. I participated as a panelist for the Women’s and Fair Practice Coordinators on February 6, 2005. These coordinators work within the AFGE Districts to highlight and address issues of discrimination, including helping employees through the EEO process. For the second year in a row, I highlighted the problems faced by EEOC hearings staff and how the changes EEOC is imposing on the hearings staff means that the Chair is rewriting the 1614 regulations under radar screen, using tactics such as phone hearings, triage of cases with “case management” assignments, “settlement projects” and the lack of hearings staff. In addition to AFGE staff, the Council continues to work closely with Congressional staff to address these issues.
Rachel Shonfield, the council’s Legislative Coordinator, participated in a panel on privatization of federal jobs. Rachel was able to discuss the difficulties employees at EEOC face including transfer of work to the call center and the problems created because employees cannot challenge this type of activity.
To assist in scheduling appointments, the Council sent the Delegates and other attendees some pointers on how to approach setting appointments, as well as a list of key appropriators and committee people. We had more appointments this year than at any time in the past. In addition to meeting representatives from the states where delegates resided, many of us scheduled appointments or dropped by to speak with staff from other states where members of our locals reside. Overall, we were able to share our concerns with a broad range of Congressional representatives. One of the more important things that we asked all of them was to have an independent evaluation by GAO of the agency call center. We specifically asked for the GAO team that investigated the Medicare call center, as we think those individuals have a keen sense of call centers, how they work, and how the agency will try to hide the ball.
As part of the legislative conference, I attended a panel discussion on Social Security initiatives. The panel was composed of economists, social security employees, AFGE employees and AFL-CIO employees. The most important and consistent message is that there is no crisis in Social Security. Many of our members are covered by the FERs retirement system, which will be most heavily impacted. Also impacted will be our members in CSRS. We received a short history lesson. We were reminded that the Social Security program is a social insurance program. The program is social in the sense that all working members of society contribute to the program for the greater good of all of our society and all of the nation’s families. The beneficiaries of the of the insurance include children whose parents die or the survivors, individuals who become disabled and have really no other source of income for their welfare and retirees to contribute to a standard of living. The social program keeps many individuals off the street and from becoming homeless.
The program is not intended to be social risk program such as a lottery where the true beneficiary is the authorizing agency ( state or local government) and society or individual contributors are merely taking a risk that they can be paid a larger amount than they risked. Such a system merely ensures that more people will end up without sufficient funds on which to live in retirement. Children and the disabled also risk that the program will have insufficient funding to meet their needs. About two-thirds of the funds are paid, to survivors and the disabled. Only one-third of the funds are paid to retirees.
So, for those who think that the discussion on Social Security does not impact them, think again. Those who value the family have to realize that children whose parents die and the stay at home mothers have no income, will become homeless and destitute. So families become lost and society as a whole deteriorates.
Following this history lesson, we were reminded that the Social Security System is where it should be in terms of paying out and the funds from which the payments are made. As with any system, minor tinkering must occur to ensure that the system continues to meet its obligations.
The cost of the proposed changes will be immense and the public will suffer. Those who contribute will pay more and get less. Those who need to count on the system will not be able to do so - women and members of most minority groups, who typically need more education to earn the same amount of money as white males, will be harmed by any investment system because compounding at the beginning will be lost, despite the fact that they will loose more over their lifetime.
Following the session, as I thought about what was going on, I though about the relationships between pimps and whores. The pimps ask for one thing – the money the whores make. The whores get nothing in return, as the promises of food and shelter remain broken. Money, if any is invested, often is by way of drugs that cause the whores eventually to self destruct. Housing, if any, is the worst and is not anything that many of us would work to obtain. Health care is catch as catch can. I know the scenario is graphic, but it seems to fit what is being asked of us when we are asked to accept the oft talked about changes to the social security system.
In any event, we all need to think about Social Security and the coming reforms. This is another issue that can be discussed with Congressional members in our follow-up calls and letters. Right now, the administration's effort is focused on getting people to buy into the discussions. The next step will be legislation. Our job is to stop the legislation in its tracks. No matter how well invested someone is, everyone’s future is at stake here.
DISCUSSIONS WITH NATIONAL PRESIDENT GAGE
I was able to spend some time talking with AFGE President John Gage. President Gage and I are going to work with the Women’s and Fair Practices Department to schedule additional appointments with key legislators and appropriators to continue to address issues surrounding reorganization, federal sector, budget issues and the call center.
OTHER AFGE INITIATIVES
Through the general opening sessions, AFGE President Gage shared some initiatives that he, National Vice Presidents and other leadership developed at a meeting in January. These initiatives include the following areas. These areas were rolled into a representation plan for AFGE.
There is concern about focusing on issues in the coming years. Termination and performance issues are of great importance given the new flexibilities we are seeing given to agencies. In addition, the Social Security Agenda pressures agencies to get rid of employees who are not in the FERS system.
AFGE will assist Councils and Locals to address the representation issue on several fronts. The AFGE news letter, the Rep Wing will continue, but there also will be a new AFGE Capitol Report - Cases that deal with what is going on-the-hill will be featured.
AFGE is introducing a computerized Case Management System – The National AFGE office contracted with a group to log cases and track them via issues. This will be a National data base and it will help the Council Presidents see what issues are pending and where the cases are. There is no up front cost. President Gage wants to document what is happening when agencies are coming after Union Officials and Employees. Check them out online at www.afgecasetrack.org.
President Gage is big on attorney involvement in representation, especially cases that generate fees. Since taking office, AFGE President Gage is using many AFGE attorneys to assist with arbitration and EEO issues. In addition, four new attorneys were hired. There currently are Office of General Counsel attorneys in Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia, and the new attorneys will be assigned to San Antonio, San Diego, with the final two, currently in the National Office, yet to be assigned.
AFGE President Gage advised that Official time is going to be beat up as we continue our struggle. Many knowledgeable people are retiring and AFGE President Gage is concerned that we need to strengthen ourselves both in terms of number of members and experienced representatives.
Other AFGE initiatives designed to assist the members relate to bargaining and the toll that bargaining and impasse panels are taking on the members. Attorneys and the field services department will play a huge role in this and we will keep you posted. For more information, check them out on-line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contracting out is a big issue. AFGE reminded us that the best place to show impact is before the decision to award the contract is made. AFGE set up a data base to track the work that is going out the doors of agencies under the current system where federal employees have extremely limited ability to compete for their jobs and contractors no longer have to show savings or improvements to be awarded a contract.
Education and training also are areas where changes are taking place. A scholarship in the name of former president John Sturdivant has been set up. For labor activist interested in obtaining degree credits, the George Meany Labor College allow activist to take courses and get a degree. Check this out online at email@example.com.
Communication is also a big focus. We were advised to humanize our newsletters and use them to obtain member feedback. To assist, we were reminded of the number of newsletter, website and other communications information available on AFGE’s website. AFGETV, an AFGE infomercial type program will also assist us with using the media to get our message out to our members and those we need to impact.
Finally, as always, increasing membership is a number one priority. An unorganized federal workforce is one easy to pick apart and destroy. All of us should focus on increasing our membership. Using one on one conversations highlighting issues that face us are a great tool for obtaining results.