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Social Security Executives Force New Contract on Administrative Law Judge Union

The agency unilaterally implemented a new collective bargaining agreement, despite months remaining on the existing one.

Officials at the Social Security Administration informed the union representing administrative law judges Thursday that it is unilaterally implementing a new management edict, effectively voiding an existing collective bargaining agreement.

In an email to officials at the Association of Administrative Law Judges, SSA Associate Commissioner in the Office of Labor-Management and Employee Relations Ralph Patinella justified implementing a new unilateral CBA that made changes to nine contract provisions by saying the union, which is associated with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, “declined to bargain” on implementation of the Trump administration’s recent workforce executive orders.

But Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said nothing in the existing collective bargaining agreement requires them to engage in midterm bargaining on issues already covered by the CBA. The move by SSA comes just one day after the union filed an internal grievance over the unilateral implementation of executive order provisions governing official time.

Zahm said that on July 6, SSA informed her that the agency would immediately begin implementation of the controversial edicts, starting with a severe reduction in the amount of official time allowed for union employees, the refusal to grant official time to work on grievances and the end of agency subsidies for travel.

“I had to take personal leave last week for an already scheduled arbitration,” Zahm said. “And I went to the hotel to check in, and I found out that the reservation had been cancelled. The government cancelled my reservation right out from under me, and it wasn’t even being paid for with a government credit card.”

Among the changes to SSA union policy effective July 9 are a reduction in the so-called “bank” of official time available to the association as a whole between then and the end of September from 5,500 hours to 400. Official time also can no longer be used to represent employees in grievances. And the union will no longer be able to maintain office space on agency property after July 31.

Guidance issued by OPM Director Jeff Pon earlier this month gave agencies the green light to unilaterally cut official time allowances and evict unions from federal property, provided their collective bargaining agreements had expired. But Zahm said there is one problem with how SSA has gone about it: the Association of Administrative Law Judges CBA is still in effect through September.

“We still have a contract, and doesn’t expire until September 30,” she said. “But they still reduced our official time by 93 percent . . . But that won’t stop us from representing our people. We’re made of sterner stuff than that.”

In her grievance, Zahm stated that SSA’s actions violate not just the CBA, but also the executive orders and existing law.

“Neither the executive orders nor the parties’ CBA allows for SSA to implement any changes to the CBA during the pendency of the contract absent a change in law, rule or regulation that mandates such change,” she wrote. “[Moreover], the executive orders themselves prohibit such changes, as they state that ‘Nothing in this order shall abrogate any collective bargaining agreement in effect on the date of this order.’”

This marks the latest in a series of complaints from unions regarding how agencies have acted in the wake of the workforce executive orders. In recent weeks, SSA has informed other federal unions that it will evict them from their office space at the end of July, and the Housing and Urban Development Department has taken similar actions.

Next week, a federal judge will hear arguments in a legal challenge against the constitutionality of the executive orders, brought by more than a dozen federal employee unions.

Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com.