Shutdown sparks furlough confusion, unanswered questions

Wednesday - 10/2/2013, 1:06pm EDT

Witold Skwierczynski on the "Federal Drive"

Download mp3

By Nicole Ogrysko
Federal News Radio

With an end to the partial government shutdown nowhere in sight, some federal workers are getting mixed messages from their agencies about their status as an employee during shutdown mode.

At the Social Security Administration, 18,000 of the agency's 44,000 employees are furloughed, said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of SSA Field Operation Locals.

Witold Skwierczynski, president, AFGE National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals

"The problem from an employee perspective is there's a lot of confusion out there," Skwierczynski said today on Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. "The agency is not prepared for this furlough. They were hoping it wouldn't happen."

Some employees who are at home sick or on a scheduled vacation before the shutdown are being called into work before their leave is over, Skwierczynski said, leaving a disconnect between furlough procedures at the central level and what local office managers are telling their employees.

"Certainly if someone is ill, they can't go to work," Skwierczynski said. "The problem is we're hearing from local managers that in some cases they're threatening them if they don't go to work they'll be put on AWOL, which is precursor to disciplinary action. The agency is sending mixed signals."

SSA says if employees have pre-approved leave, the agency puts them on the furlough list. The question of whether those employees will ever see a paycheck is unknown.

Under the Antideficiency Act, union work at SSA has been shut down. If an employee wanted to file a grievance, it would go unheard, Skwierczynski said.

"These instances that we're hearing about, we're having extreme difficulties even bringing them to the agency's attention or certainly litigating them, filing a grievance," he said. "Let's say we think a local manager is violating the instructions they got centrally, that would be our normal response, we're unable to do that because all union officials have been told they won't be given any time off to do that. Also, we've requested some of our union officials to be put on the furlough list so we can continue to run the union, and they've declined to do that. Representational activities have pretty much come to a halt."

Skwierczynski said the relationship between SSA and union management had started to recently improve, but a lack of communication about how the agency expects its employees to operate during the shutdown has been unclear.

"It's going to leave a bitter taste in our mouths about how the agencies approach this shutdown," he said. "We have some legal responsibilities, and we can't exercise them in this current environment because the agency stands on pretty much shutting us down and not allowing us to function during regular working hours. It's going to be a problem reestablishing that relationship that we thought we started to improve."

RELATED STORIES:

Government shutdown: 4 things feds should know

DoD works out how military pay bill will impact civilians

Latest shutdown news