SSA union not happy with talks on contract

Pact proposes changes in overtime, leave, attire

May 27, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Social Security Administration employees in the Baltimore area met yesterday to discuss negotiations under way for a new labor contract and kick off a national effort by federal workers against privatization of government jobs.

SSA has proposed a collective bargaining agreement that would change rules for overtime and personal leave and institute a new dress code.

"It's not the worst contract we've seen, but it represents the worst abuse of power that I've ever witnessed," said John Gage of Baltimore, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, referring to what he called the Bush administration's efforts to weaken federal labor unions. The AFGE represents about 600,000 employees nationwide.

Gage and other union representatives are negotiating a new contract for 15,000 local Social Security employees as well as those in 1,500 field offices. They have until the fall to settle differences. Federal employees are not allowed to strike; outstanding issues could be settled by a panel of political appointees.

About 200 employees turned out for a question-and-answer session with Gage at the Department of Health and Human Services campus on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn. Participants said they are worried about a new dress code and changes to personal leave and overtime policies.

"The problem is that you have all these managers and each of them has a different standard for proper attire," said Debbie Fredericksen, vice president of the National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals.

Employees said they also worry that administration officials could change the personal leave policy to restrict the number of hours that workers carry over from year to year. Changes to the overtime policy could give managers the right to dole out overtime to favorites or force others to work more hours than they want, union members said.

"I don't like it at all," said Aaron Bishop, a Social Security benefits earning technician, referring to the proposed contract. "It's unacceptable."

Recent contracts have been decided, some say unfairly, by the impasses panel, union officials said. Panel members, appointed by Bush, tend to side with management.

When Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services workers and management failed to strike a contract two years ago, the panel considered 26 divisive issues. It decided for management in all but one case, said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals.

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