From attacking its own workforce to undermining its own government functions, it’s clear the Trump administration’s goal is to make it as hard as possible for federal employees to do their jobs and remain in the government.
At the Social Security Administration (SSA), these attacks come in the form of imposed workplace rules such as cuts to and elimination of telework, violating employees’ contract with the agency.
Even though SSA previously praised telework for helping avoid increased real estate costs, boosting morale, and helping with emergency preparedness, the agency last November entirely terminated a successful, six-year telework pilot program for Operations, which covers field office employees, payment center employees, tele-service center employees, and a few other positions. AFGE SSA councils representing these employees have filed grievances against the termination of the pilot program.
Now SSA has announced it will terminate or curtail another successful telework program at the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) even though that program has been in existence for 20 years and has played a major role in helping reduce the backlog of cases.
Beginning on March 2, legal assistants will see their telework days drastically cut or eliminated entirely. These assistants don’t interact with the public. They provide technical and legal support to Administrative Law Judges. They are responsible for developing hearing level cases, writing decisions, and doing case reviews. The program has been successful since SSA created technology that allows these employees to securely perform their functions remotely.
Other OHO workers are facing telework cuts as well. Systems staff like Hearing Office Systems Analysts/Computer Assistants will no longer be eligible to telework. Regional Office and headquarters staff will see their telework days reduced.
The AFGE SSA Council 215, which represents over 5,000 bargaining unit employees, has filed a grievance over the change, arguing that the agency has no rationale behind it.
“The decision fits with the ideological agenda of this administration that they are anti-telework no matter the evidence that telework is helping the agency,” said AFGE Council 215 President Richard Couture. “The administration basically wants to make federal employment as onerous and burdensome on federal employees as possible so they can effectively remove themselves and take jobs in the private sector, which would bring down overall federal employment.”
The change will hurt not only employee morale but also their pockets, as workers, many of whom are single parents, will now have to incur additional day-to-day costs for commuting and childcare during the day.
“It will amount to hundreds of dollars a month, thousands of dollars a year, and to me that’s effectively a pay cut,” he added. “We’re talking about a significant pay cut for hard-working employees based on absolutely no business reason whatsoever.”
The agency claimed the cuts were due to telework abuse, but Couture said the agency has no data to support that claim. In fact, the workers are expected to be just as productive, if not more so, at home as at the office.
Employees feel the reduction or elimination of telework is a slap in the face since managers are saying workers are not to be trusted to work remotely but are expected to do exactly that during bad weather or other emergencies.
“It goes back to what [Acting White House Chief of Staff] Mick Mulvaney said about the USDA relocation from D.C. to Kansas City. ‘Well, you know we don’t have to go through due process, they’ll just quit. You know this is an easy way to remove employees because we don’t have to discipline them, we don’t have to put them through performance plans, they’ll just go,’” he concluded.
Telework has helped employees balance their work-lives. Cutting or eliminating telework would demotivate employees and force employees to look for a better job while SSA staffing levels suffer under a hiring freeze. Losing people and not being to replace them will hurt the public. Without legal assistants, for example, fewer cases would be heard, increasing waiting times for the public. Ultimately, Social Security beneficiaries will pay for the administration’s misguided change.
“They could be waiting longer and possibly dying before their cases are heard again,” Couture said.
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