SSA expects smooth labor negotiations Social Security union seeks better work environments

December 02, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Both management and labor at the Socia Security Administration are hopeful that negotiations for a new three-year contract that started yesterday will be less divisive and more productive than in years past.

"I'm optimistic that we'll come out of this with a contract that's pretty much unprecedented in the federal sector," said John Gage, president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees at SSA's Woodlawn, Md., headquarters.

Topping the list of AFGE concerns are improving air and water quality in SSA buildings, expanding work schedule flexibility, and giving employees greater access to their personnel files.

Negotiations are expected to last for at least 11 weeks. Union and management do not negotiate pay levels, which are set by government regulations.

Mr. Gage said he expects a more congenial atmosphere than during past negotiations. "I think there's a good attitude between union and management these days and maybe it won't be so adversarial as in the past."

Agency spokesman Phil Gambino said administrators also are optimistic. "I believe the negotiations will go well, that both sides are going in with a positive attitude," he said.

SSA would not comment about its specific goals in the negotiations.

Each team of negotiators will have 12 members. A mediator may be brought in at the end if there are unresolved problems, Mr. Gage said.

A congenial atmosphere and the absence of any major disagreements should allow the negotiators to "fine tune" existing personnel policies, Mr. Gage said. Thirty of 39 articles in the contract articles will be tinkered with, he said.

Some areas of concern for the union include:

* AIR QUALITY -- Clean air is probably the top concern of SSA employees both at headquarters and in regional offices, Mr. Gage said. At Woodlawn, many buildings are "laced" with asbestos, and last year a worker at an SSA office in Richmond, Calif., died of Legionnaire's disease, he said.

Many SSA employees complain of heightened asthma and allergy symptoms they believe are exacerbated by deteriorating buildings and inadequate ventilation, Mr. Gage said.

* ERGONOMIC EQUIPMENT -- SSA employees are sustaining repetitive motion injuries and are experiencing other problems from prolonged computer use, Mr. Gage said. In the past, SSA has agreed to provide workers with ergonomically correct equipment and furniture, but the agency has had trouble getting the purchase money, he said.

* FLEXIBLE WORK HOURS -- Early risers may be able to begin work at 6 a.m. rather than 6:30 a.m. AFGE also wants to extend flextime and 549 -- a policy that allows workers to work 9-hour days and then get every 10th day off -- to smaller regional offices. Only headquarters offers flexible schedules.

* CREDIT HOURS -- AFGE wants SSA to allow employees who work more than 24 hours of over time in a pay period to take that extra time off during that pay period. Employees would still be able to car ry over the 24 hours to following pay periods, as is currently allowed. AFGE also wants to expand the plan to cover workers in the field.

* ACCESS TO PERSONNEL FILES -- Mr. Gage said he wants employees to have greater access to their personnel files, which include information such as performance evaluations, disciplinary records and medical histories.

* PERFORMANCE EVALUATION -- AFGE wants to reform work evaluation procedures, which Mr. Gage described as "truly archaic." They don't fit in with the new [cooperative] concepts of total quality management" SSA is implementing, he said.

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