AALJ and SSA End Negotiations in   Gridlock

Unfortunately, I must report to you that the Agency has failed to bargain with the AALJ in good faith, and negotiations have concluded. We have not reached agreement on nine articles, which include Telework, Reassignments, Judicial Function, Duration, Official Time, Employee Rights, Hours of Work, Leave and Facilities and Services.

TELEWORK: The Agency is attempting to strip your ability to telework. If their proposal is implemented, as it was for our colleagues in AFGE, the Agency will decide when you telework, if you telework, how many days you telework and may terminate your telework at any time for any reason. For about 75% of us, telework is the tool that enables us to hear as many cases as we do, and meet the onerous production standards under which we work. Under this proposal, you can be told that if you don’t move cases more quickly, volunteer for more cases, or schedule more cases, or for any reason whatsoever, you can be removed from telework.

Because we have dramatically reduced the number of pending cases, lost over 40,000 credit hours for the last three years doing it, and have increased our productivity almost 20% since FY 2017, it is deeply concerning that the Agency has chosen to destabilize our judicial corps. The Union firmly believes this is harmful to our important mission and that it is a disservice to the American public to radically change an essential tool we successfully use to do our jobs.

ABILITY TO TRANSFER: SSA has proposed to entirely eliminate the transfer list. And, all management judges will be given preference ahead of all line judges. Yet, that wasn’t even enough for the Agency. They are also insisting on the discretion to hire new judges and place them in hearing offices ahead of you. To the last minute the negotiation team tried to broker a deal to preserve your right to fairly be selected to transfer.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: SSA has stripped references to the Administrative Procedure Act. It is troubling that they have proposed to entirely eliminate the CBA article on Judicial Function. Entirely eliminate it. We are deeply concerned that the Agency will not acknowledge our judicial function and we think this may relate to their efforts to move hearings to the Appeals Council.

125 SQUARE FOOT OFFICES: Because the Agency has plans to, when offices are relocated, to put us in 125 square foot offices, with no guarantee of a window, or a lock, and with no American flag, they wanted us to waive our right to negotiate office moves. This was so important to the agency, they initially told us that they would basically eliminate a functional way to administer dues withholding unless we agreed to waiving our right to negotiate your offices being moved. We refused. We were not going to see our judges go to 125 square foot offices with no American flags, no locks and no windows, just to collect your dues. Fortunately, we did reach agreement on dues withholding. We did not reach agreement on negotiating office relocations which is in Article 29.

REPRESENTATION TIME: The Agency has proposed to reduce the hours union leaders have to represent you by approximately 80%. We cannot perform our representational duties with this reduction. This radical reduction of official time hours is consistent with an Executive Order found to be illegal, and consistent with the reduction of hours imposed on AFGE.

SEVEN YEAR CONTRACT: SSA, consistent with an Executive Order that has been found to be illegal, is insisting on a seven-year contract. This was imposed on AFGE in the recent Federal Service Impasses Panel decision I have previously shared. The terms of the contract are so harsh, it would be unlikely any union could survive locked into it for seven years.

TONE OF THE NEGOTIATIONS: We are troubled by the tone and posture of the negotiations. We were told that we were paying for “the sins of the father,” meaning the former union leadership. Hard feelings toward people no longer in leadership is not a legitimate reason for draconian contract provisions that cause harm to Agency mission. When we expressed concerns about judges’ safety, we were told that other people at SSA also get death threats, and that we were “not special.” I am sharing this with you to let you know that there are deeply held biases against us which are unwarranted and in no way serve the critical mission of SSA. We sincerely hope, with the new leadership of Commissioner Saul, that we can hit a reset button on this relationship.

CONSTITUTIONAL CLAIM: As you know, since March, we have had a pending constitutional claim that has yet to be addressed. The judicial corps reports to an employee, and as I’ve discussed in other newsletters, this is not consistent with the Solicitor General’s guidance and the Supreme Court decision in Lucia. Ultimately, our reporting structure needs to be corrected, and we need to renegotiate this contract.

YOUR NEGOTIATING TEAM: You have had an exceptional team of judges representing you through these extremely difficult negotiations. Your Executive Vice President Danette Mincey, VP4N Judge Matthew Martin, VP4S Judge Carol Moore, and Milwaukee Judge Patrick Berigan were exceptional. I thank them, as well as IFPTE International Representative David Lafemina, Judge Jay Cohen and Judge Gabrielle Vitellio who also served on the team.

THE DOCUMENTS: If you click here, you are taken to our AALJ homepage and you can find the Union and Agency’s initial proposals, as well as the articles we did agree upon, and the last best offers submitted by the Union and Agency. It’s under “2019 CBA Negotiations” at the top left. More information will follow.

WHAT’S NEXT: Next week, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) mediator will certify us at impasse. We will be prepared, should FSIP take jurisdiction, to present the strongest case possible to represent you. Please send your affidavits or sworn statements related to telework to JudgeJaniceHolmes@gmail.com, and focus on the impact of a system that would be entirely at the discretion of the agency. And please note, their proposal does not say at the discretion of your HOCALJ. If region or HQ directs telework to be eliminated, that will be what happens and there will be no way to grieve it.

VIDEO/TOWN HALLS: I am preparing a video message this weekend and will share it soon. Also, I will be holding a couple of town hall meetings via telephone so you can directly ask me questions.

CONCLUSION: The old battles are over. It’s a new day with a new fight for us to win. Judge Mincey and I, along with Judge Vitellio who is your legislative committee chair, and your union leadership team, are laser focused on protecting your ability to do your critical work for the American people. We will fight for you. We need your support. If you are an ALJ at SSA, it is time to join. Please contact AALJ Secretary Janice Holmes at JudgeJaniceHolmes@gmail.com and she would love to assist you. We must be united as we move forward in order to be successful. We can do this.

Melissa McIntosh
AALJ President