The lawmakers wrote a letter to acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill.

The lawmakers wrote a letter to acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Lawmakers Urge Social Security Administration to Back Off 'Anti-Labor' Proposals

A bipartisan group of House members suggests management may be circumventing a court order barring implementation of controversial Trump executive orders.

A bipartisan group of more than 150 House lawmakers last week urged the Social Security Administration to rescind a number of “anti-labor” proposals from its contract negotiations with a federal employee union, citing their similarity to provisions of three controversial executive orders that a federal judge ruled unlawful last year.

In a May 1 letter to acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill, 157 lawmakers, led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said they were “dismayed” by the agency’s adherence to a number of collective bargaining proposals that have led to a “breakdown” in negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees.

The lawmakers cited proposals to evict AFGE from its offices within Social Security Administration buildings, the confiscation of all computers and printers used by employees during representational work, and requiring union employees to request permission in advance to use official time. The lawmakers described these provisions as “extreme and similar in anti-union tone to certain provisions” of a series of workforce executive orders that were struck down last August by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The Trump administration has appealed that decision.

“Such extreme proposals make it appear that the Social Security Administration is seeking to circumvent the order of the United States District Court, that enjoined many provisions of the executive orders,” the lawmakers wrote. “[If] implemented by SSA, these proposals will diminish labor protections and the collective bargaining rights that Congress intended, and will have a severe, destabilizing effect on agency operations and employee morale and SSA’s ability to deliver timely and efficient services to the elderly and persons with disabilities.”

David Cann, director of field services and education at AFGE, said that although labor and management were able to reach agreement on a number of topics through bargaining, the Social Security Administration declared an impasse over several outstanding issues. The agency refused “to even discuss” proposals that mirrored provisions of the enjoined executive orders, he said.

The Federal Service Impasses Panel has asserted jurisdiction over the matter, and Cann said he expects a decision in early June.

This is not the first time a federal agency has been accused of circumventing Jackson’s court order in collective bargaining negotiations. Last September, labor leaders alleged similar efforts at the Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs departments. In those instances, department spokespeople said that proposals similar to the executive orders’ edicts were “based solely” on the department’s “discretion.”

The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The bipartisan letter came just days after the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a similar entreaty to Berryhill on April 29.

“Last year, the U.S. District Court enjoined provisions of three executive orders undermining federal workers’ collective bargaining rights, union representation and whistleblower protections,” wrote Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. “Yet SSA is now deliberately pursuing similar policies through contract negotiations.”