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Arbitrator: Social Security Violated Labor Law Again in Dealings With Administrative Law Judge Union

  February 9, 2021 | By Erich Wagner, Government Executive

An independent arbitrator last week ruled that the Social Security Administration violated federal labor law when it moved to unilaterally implement a partial union contract on the Association of Administrative Law Judges, despite the fact that several issues remained up for negotiation.

Over the last two years, Social Security and the ALJ union have undergone a long and at times acrimonious process to negotiate a new union contract. Last January, the Federal Service Impasses Panel took jurisdiction over nine contract articles still disputed by the parties, over the objection of the union.

Last May, another arbitrator found that management at the agency engaged in bad faith bargaining by repeatedly withholding routine requests for information by the union during their negotiations.

Once the impasses panel issued its decision last spring, the union sued the panel, arguing that its members were unconstitutionally appointed without the advice and consent of the Senate, given their level of autonomy and the inability of parties to directly appeal their decisions. In light of those proceedings, the Federal Labor Relations Authority stayed the impasses panel’s decision until the court case was resolved. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson still had not issued a decision as of Monday.

Despite the fact that several elements of the new contract still had not been finalized, the Social Security Administration called on the judges union to ratify a partial contract of articles on which they had come to agreement, in apparent violation of the parties’ ground rules for negotiations. When the union declined to hold that vote, the agency unilaterally imposed those contract provisions in August 2020.

In his decision, Arbitrator Salvatore Arrigo said the agency’s violation of its memorandum of understanding with the union when it implemented the partial contract was “clear and patent,” and that it “constituted a repudiation of the essence of the ratification process.”

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