November 04, 2009
Christina Erling
(202) 639-6491

Nation's Largest Federal Employee Union Renews Call for Change of SSA Leadership

WASHINGTON - The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation's largest federal employee union, today called on the Obama Administration to remove Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue. The union says recent events involving H1N1 employee policy and a third party class action lawsuit indicate that Astrue has lost touch with employee rights and the impact his policies have on effective public service. The Social Security Administration’s chief negotiator for mid-term bargaining on abating H1N1 told AFGE members that H1N1 is not a serious communicable disease, contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and SSA’s own chief medical officer. In a direct challenge to SSA protocols, SSA managers – and its negotiator – have threatened disciplinary action if SSA employees refuse to take an interview with a member of the public that exhibits swine flu symptoms but wants a face-to-face interview.

“It is outrageous that this policy forces employees to decide whether their health is more important than their job. And equally outrageous is that clients coming in to SSA field offices to conduct business could now be exposed to H1N1 based on this policy that allows H1N1 infected claimants to insist on face-to-face interviews. This policy is dangerous, puts too many people at risk and further illustrates the callous disregard SSA leadership has for its employees and the public,” said Witold SKwierczynsKi, president of AFGE Council 220.

AFGE also recently applauded the order of a federal judge in the Northern District of California to allow blind individuals an accommodation in the form of communications from the Social Security Administration, something which the SSA leadership has repeatedly fought against and claimed that it would be too burdensome to accommodate.

“The judge in this case found that there is no credible evidence that it would be unduly burdensome for the agency to offer further accommodations for the blind. The agency has never undertaken an administrative review of any requests for accommodations. Astrue’s modus operandi is to deny claims outright. These actions further solidify and illustrate our point that the Social Security Administration needs a new commissioner,” said John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The American Council for the Blind filed a class action lawsuit, which was recently ruled upon, against SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue, challenging the adequacy of alternative modes of communication by the SSA in its notices and correspondences to the blind and visually impaired.

What the ruling found was that the agency “routinely refused to even acknowledge that it was obligated to follow section 504 [of the National Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a national law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities], routinely denying individual requests for accommodation. In this litigation [the agency] has been quick to find lame excuses for noncompliance but exceedingly slow to favor accommodations.”

The American Council of the Blind filed suit to get the agency to produce Braille and Microsoft CDs of agency communications for the blind. SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue responded to the group’s requests with a myriad of excuses, all of which have been “lame” by the ruling judge.

“The fact that this lawsuit has gone this far is an embarrassment to Astrue and a black eye to an agency that is the caretaker of the elderly and disabled. For too long, Astrue has been making the wrong decisions for his employees, such as denying transit subsidies and denying proper protection against communicable diseases such as H1N1. Now it looks like he’s denying the American public their rights. The downward spiral of this agency has got to end. It’s time for a new Social Security commissioner,” stated Gage.

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