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Administrative Law Judge Union Accuses Social Security of Bad Faith Bargaining

  July 8, 2019 | By Erich Wagner, Government Executive

The president of a union representing the administrative law judges who adjudicate disability claims has accused the Social Security Administration of bargaining in bad faith. The accusation follows news that federal mediators declared the agency and union to be at impasse in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Association of Administrative Law Judges President Melissa McIntosh said her union has filed an internal grievance with the agency over its negotiating practices as they discuss a new contract. She said she believes management is focused on standardizing contracts with disparate bargaining units, rather than on improving efficiency for taxpayers.

“I think what’s most obvious would be their aggressive posture in mandating contracts that are the same for all bargaining units at SSA,” McIntosh said. “You have a bargaining unit that’s made exclusively of judges, and then there’s [the American Federation of Government Employees], which is a bargaining unit of 45,000 employees with diverse positions, and then there’s a [National Treasury Employees Union] bargaining unit. It’s not bargaining in good faith to say, all three times, that we want the contracts to look the same.”

AALJ and Social Security have been negotiating provisions of a new collective bargaining agreement since March, culminating in two weeks of mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service last month. At the end of those two weeks, FMCS Commissioner Randall Mayhew declared the parties to be at an impasse.

The agency’s “last best offer” to the union, which was reviewed by Government Executive, includes several proposals that have become standard in the Trump administration, including shifting telework policies to be entirely at the discretion of the agency and a drastic reduction in the amount of official time the union can use. In this case, SSA proposed a 90% cut to official time, from an annual bank of 22,000 hours in the current contract to only 2,000 hours.

“We simply cannot function as a union and meet our statutory requirements [to represent employees] on only 2,000 hours,” McIntosh said. “And they’ve done the same thing to try to aggressively eliminate official time for AFGE and NTEU.”

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