WASHINGTON -- The National Treasury Employees Union has charged that Social Security Administration management and a rival union are collaborating to combat its efforts to represent SSA employees at agency headquarters in Woodlawn.
"The Social Security Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees are collaborating to build a free-speech barrier at SSA headquarters -- a Woodlawn wall -- to shut up SSA employees who support NTEU and shut out information on the issues," NTEU president Robert M. Tobias said in a statement yesterday.
The AFGE, an AFL-CIO affiliate and the largest federal union, currently represents most employees at Woodlawn headquarters.
The NTEU, the largest independent federal union, is seeking to force a representation election to replace AFGE as bargaining agent.
The NTEU charged that SSA management has prevented it from distributing information on public sidewalks at Woodlawn.
On Monday, the union filed a request for an injunction in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
A hearing has been set for mid-July, said Clint Wolcott, NTEU's assistant counsel.
Under federal labor law, agency employees may distribute information from a rival union but professional staffers from that union may not.
The NTEU's request to distribute information was denied last week for the second time by the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
"It is absurd and suggests a lack of knowledge of well-recognized labor bargaining rules for NTEU to accuse SSA officials of 'collaboration' in this circumstance," said Phil Gambino, an SSA spokesman.
"The agency clearly had no choice but to deny NTEU's request to distribute literature at the Woodlawn complex," he said.
The NTEU has until Nov. 25 to collect the signatures of 30 percent of the members of AFGE's bargaining unit at Woodlawn. Face-to-face contact between the union's professional staffers and SSA employees is "critical" in the petition drive, said Mr. Wolcott.
Mr. Wolcott also argued that "there is a very important constitutional amendment at stake in this case.
"The sidewalks are open sidewalks that anybody can and does distribute literature on, so the prohibition of dissemination by a particular person is a constitutional rarity."
Mr. Tobias said in an interview that an SSA manager, acting at the behest of an AFGE shop steward, ordered an employee to remove pro-NTEU materials from his work space. That employee and another worker have filed charges of unfair labor practice against SSA, Mr. Tobias said.