... SSA [Social Security Administration] and the union finished a second week of negotiating last Friday [February 25] for a new contract. SSA workers have been working under the old contract, even though it expired more than a year ago.
SSA and AFGE completed their first round of negotiations in January and agreed to 12 of the most straightforward issues in the new contract, said Witold Skwierczynski, AFGE's chief negotiator.
"The entire contract has about 50 issues so the easiest 12 are agreed upon," Skwierczynski said. "We now are embarked on the toughies. Things like appraisals, performance awards, some union institutional stuff like office space, the use of their e-mail and some travel and training issues."
Last week, SSA and AFGE were supposed to meet with federal mediation experts to help push the process along.
"They haven't decided anything despite the fact a furlough is potentially imminent," he said. "We were to negotiate scenarios about what may happen, and how agency will implement furloughs. But since they were unable to tell us anything today about what they are planning, we are discussing proposals we will put on the table on any particular scenario."
He said SSA management wouldn't tell the union who is essential or what jobs are exempt. Skwierczynski said SSA management also didn't want to discuss if there was a funding shortfall, if they planned to keep a short staff or just close offices altogether to make up for the lack of funding.
He added that AFGE and SSA are deferring current contract negotiations to March 22.
"We are up against difficult negotiating team on management side who is reluctant to compromise in many areas," he said. "We are hopeful with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service involved we can whittle down the differences, and then go to federal services impasse panel if we need to."
Skwierczynski said among the top issues employees want AFGE's help with is around workplace stress, specifically around having a more flexible working environment.
He said health and safety issues around indoor temperature and air quality were among the other top issues as were alternative work schedules for field employees, including flex time, telework and credit hours.
"I've done a lot of contracts and there is an evolution involved and we are cognizant that we have to get to it," Skwierczynski said. "The agency's strategy is to keep the current contract in place so they are stretching the process out. We need to try to start getting to our final positions and get to the bottom line."