Union sues SSA on leaflet ban
A federal employee union has filed suit against the Social Security Administration, charging that the agency is violating the First Amendment by barring the union from handing out leaflets on the sidewalks outside SSA headquarters in Woodlawn.
SSA employees must be permitted the free flow of information about employment issues "without censorship by management," said the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) after his group and an SSA worker filed the suit yesterday.
The SSA and the General Services Administration "have no right to dictate what information SSA employees should read or hear -- on their own time in public places," said the NTEU president, Robert M. Tobias. "Nor do they have the right to deny the free-speech rights of NTEU members or employees."
During the summer, GSA allowed NTEU to distribute leaflets at the Woodlawn complex, and the union did so about twice a week without incident until Sept. 16, according to union officials.
On that day, the agencies "arbitrarily" stopped NTEU from passing out literature there and has prevented distribution since, said Tobias.
In May, NTEU applied to the SSA for a permit to distribute literature on public sidewalks outside building entrances within the complex. The permit was denied.
In August, NTEU reapplied, but the SSA did not take action on the permit request within the required time limits.
"Many SSA managers want to muzzle NTEU," said Tobias. "They want to keep the status quo by preventing employees from making an honest choice for an innovative, effective union."
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, asks that the defendants be ruled in violation of the First Amendment and the Federal Property Management Regulations.
NTEU also filed an unfair labor practice charge requesting the Federal Labor Relations Authority to force the SSA to allow the union to distribute information at Woodlawn.
Ruling in FDIC action
In another National Treasury Employees Union suit, an arbitrator has ruled that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. must give more than a year's worth of back pay to an FDIC employee in Chicago who was denied a promotion in retaliation for having taken legal action against the agency.
The ruling calls for NTEU member Agee Allen to be elevated to a Grade 13 bank examiner.
In making his decision, arbitrator Amedeo Greco found that Allen was denied a promotion in retaliation for pursuing an Equal Opportunity Commission suit against the FDIC -- a case that Allen won three weeks before he came up for promotion.
Greco concluded that it was "far too much of a stretch to categorize this situation as mere bungling" by the FDIC. He said "all or much of this was deliberately aimed at passing over Allen in retaliation for his past protected activity in filing his lawsuit."
NTEU president Tobias said the FDIC had "used retaliation before to try to intimidate and stifle employees." FDIC had fired two of the three black bank examiners who brought the original discrimination lawsuit, according to Tobias.
"Federal agencies -- particularly the FDIC -- must accept and support that employees, as individuals, can stand up for their right to employment equity and their right to unionize without management harassment," said Tobias.
The Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on employment and productivity this week heard horror stories about electronic monitoring of employees, as the panel considered the Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act sponsored by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.
Among those testifying was Carol Scott, a customer representative at the New Jersey Central Power and Light office in Asbury Park, who learned that her personal conversations were being secretly monitored and recorded by a supervisor. Her first reaction was to get mad.
"I felt like I had just caught someone peeping in my bedroom window . . . ," she said. "I was angry because the company was telling me, in essence, that they cannot trust what I say nor rely on my character to perform my job."
Scott told the Senate panel her next move was to get even -- by filing a grievance against the company for such unwarranted invasions of privacy.
That complaint recently was settled, effectively eliminating the practice of "blind monitoring" at Jersey Central Power and Light.
Among those speaking out against the bill was Lawrence Fineran, an assistant vice president with the National Association of Manufacturers, who said the legislation would weaken the usefulness of quality and safety checks of employee performance.
"Members of Congress constantly speak to the need for domestic businesses to be responsive to consumers if they expect to be competitive in the global economy," said Fineran. "NAM's members agree with this, and many have implemented quality control and customer service programs which often rely on various forms of electronic monitoring to be successful."
Under Simon's bill, "electronic monitoring" is defined as the collection, storage, analysis, and reporting of information of an employee's activities by means of a computer, electronic observation and supervision, remote telephone surveillance, or other form of visual, auditory or computer-based surveillance.
The legislation would require that an employee receive advance written notice before any type of monitoring takes place. Employers also would be required to notify prospective employees during the interview process that such monitoring will occur in the course of the job.
Surveillance that would include a customer or member of the public would, under the proposed bill, require notification of the affected individual with a signal light, beep tone or other form of notice.