WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees has reached agreement with the Social Security Administration on a plan to return 45,000 employees represented by the union to physical worksites on March 30, although this date is subject to changes in pandemic conditions and further negotiations with agency components.
The agreement caps a contentious period of negotiations between AFGE unions and SSA over reentry plans for employees, who have been performing their duties from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years ago.
“I want to thank everyone who participated in the bargaining process for all of their hard work and contributions to get us to this agreement,” said Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the union on the reentry plans and president of AFGE Council 215, which represents Office of Hearing Operations employees.
“This agreement is only the first step, but we now have a path forward to begin reopening SSA offices and worksites in a manner that protects both the health and safety of employees and the public we serve,” Couture said.
In November, the agency announced a plan to bring employees back to the office on Jan. 3, although that date was pushed back after SSA acknowledged that the plan was not properly negotiated with its unions.
The agreement signed Jan. 19 requires SSA to negotiate further with AFGE unions representing individual SSA components over specific reentry issues that apply to those components, including plans to allow employees to continue teleworking regularly based on the particular attributes of their jobs. These meetings are to conclude by March 1, enabling the agency to meet the 30-day notification period before employees will be scheduled to return to worksites.
For the duration of the agreement, all employees, contractors, visitors, and members of the public will be required to wear masks while at SSA facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Under the agency’s original plan, visitors would have been allowed to forgo masks, which would have compromised the health of both visitors and employees. SSA lobbies, waiting rooms, and other entry points will be monitored for compliance with the mask policy, and managers will be responsible for enforcing the policy and ejecting non-compliant visitors if necessary.
“This agreement will save lives, help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, give us the forum necessary to resolve component-specific issues prior to reentry, and secures additional flexibilities and protections for employees that they would not otherwise have had,” Couture said.