Federal union wins case for SSA teleservice employees

Monday - 1/10/2011, 6:51pm EST

By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Employees at Social Security Administration teleservice centers have won a dispute over guidelines that restrict when they use annual leave. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) brought the challenge, first to a mediator and then on appeal to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

Both decisions overturned SSA's policy, finding that the agency violated the parties' agreement by implementing restrictions around when certain employees could use annual leave.

"The agency capriciously administered these new guidelines and in doing so, violated the contract between SSA and the union, wreaked havoc in the workplace and severely impacted the employees and their families," said Charles Estudillo, first vice president of AFGE Council 220, who represented AFGE in the arbitration.

The guidelines in question limited leave approvals at the telecenters to up to 10 percent on peak call days and up to 15 percent on other days. The policy gave officials the discretion to approve or deny leave requests below those thresholds, even though the 800-number system is a fully integrated national system and no single installation could claim a legitimate operational need to deny leave on the ground of undue interference with the work, AFGE stated in its release.

Communication failures also led officials to incorrectly apply certain guidelines to categories of leave they were not meant to address. Managers of some facilities required employees to bring in obituaries as proof for bereavement leave, notes for car repair and forcing employees to cancel long-standing doctor's appointments, among other situations.

According to the Bureau of Labor, federal employees earn annual leave that may be used for vacations, rest and relaxation, and personal business or emergencies. A maximum amount of 30 days of annual leave may be carried over from one leave year to the next. Feds also earn 13 days of sick leave each year that may be used in the event of illness, injury or medical appointments for them or for family members. There are no limits on the amount of sick leave that can be accumulated.

AFGE says that these offenses occurred even after the union informed national teleservice management of the misunderstanding.

Annual leave is only one of many ongoing disputes between AFGE and SSA. Other issues include employee contracts, promotion consideration, volunteering, breastfeeding and health benefits.

Despite the disagreements, SSA was designated one of the top ten best places to work in the federal government in 2007 and 2009.

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