February 03, 2020 - Edwin Osorio - 2nd Vice President
With the 2019 SSA/AFGE National “Disagreement” we have entered “The ERA of Bad Feelings.” These are unchartered waters for all SSA bargaining unit employees (BUE). Management’s disdain for the Union is nothing new, what is new is management’s hubris and lack of interest in even the perception of good faith efforts. Today management is on the precipice of tacitly declaring the Union’s nonexistence through the marginalization and destabilization of the Union’s role asprotectorate of the BUE. The micromanaging and managerial misconduct is on the rise and slowly eroding the spirit of the BUE.
We are now in a period of time where the agency implicitlybelieves that their interests are in acting if the Union does not exist; and their actions no longer disguise their contempt for all of us and their desperation to accomplish our demise as soon as possible. If you are a BUE, you might ask yourself, “Why is the agency doing this?” The answer is simple: for the disenfranchisement of all BUE by usurpation of your Union, which means that all BUE are subject to the whims of the agency and attaining their objectives, which are not to your benefit is a lot easier and quicker without your Union to defend you.
You don’t have to take my word for it; just ask yourself or your fellow co-worker “Are you as happy as you used to be at work?” My experience tells me that more than seven out of every ten of us will answer a resounding NO! This current trend of eroding away employee’s rights and protections is unsustainable and the price we are paying is our physical and emotional health. There is another cost that the agency knows but only pretends to care about: the diminishing importance ofpublic service. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that a happy employee is a productive employee; and an employee that has been alienated from their work inevitably withdraws and feels detached from the labor of our love that we have all felt when we first became civil servants and sought to serve the public with honor. This is called the “Erosion of CivicAccountability” and it is management driven by political ideology and as a by-product, is robbing us of our passion and pride for acting in the public interest.
I truly believe that we are in the throes of a labor renaissance that will be the catalyst of the emergence of a more prosperous Middle-Class. This will only happen if we arise victorious in the current fight for our lives; but with hard work and an unrelenting endurance to sustain us through hard times, we will get there. We need to be tenacious in our darkest hour. The best way to do this is to never forget our sense of worth and to never lose appreciation for the value of our contributions to the public interest. This begins with keeping management accountable and ending the practice of giving management free passes for mismanagement and their abuse of discretion. Then we will not only persevere, we will thrive and be triumphant!
As a unified force, we need to file a grievance against management every time they violate the contract and infringe upon our rights and protections. If we don’t, we are simply rewarding their bad behavior because every time we let them get away with violating the contract by trampling over our rights and we don’t file a grievance, we are reinforcing their misconduct. And since they are getting the results they are seeking, there is no incentive for them to change their behavior. There is no such thing as a bargaining unit employee violating the contract that escapes disciplinary action. Why should management be treated any differently than us? We have to stop holding management to a lower standard and start letting them know we will no longer look the other way.
There are many reasons why employees may talk themselves out of filing grievances. The most prevalent one is the fear of being considered a trouble maker and a problem employee, or retaliatio0n. Often employees think that by not filing a grievance they will not get on their management’s bad side. This line of thinking is an exercise in cognitive dissonancethat needs to be changed if we are ever going to get management to treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve. SSA management lives in a world of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism. If you are not a part of any of these groups, you are already on their bad side. Besides, the only reason they are picking on you other than because they can is because they can! In other words, they will only stop when you make them stop.
Employees often say they won’t do anything now, but if it gets worse they will file a grievance against management. The problem with this line of thinking is that by the time you have had enough and decide to file a grievance, it will only be the first time you are putting management on notice, and all the other times management treated you improperly will be undocumented and in most cases unprovable—as if it never happened. What may have been a slam dunk victory because of the sheer volume of evidence established instead is denied for a lack of evidence. And this is what they count on. Their main objective will always be to prove you wrong. Because you stayed silent on so many occasions, they never even had to defend their actions. This is why even for the smallest infraction you should file a grievance; just to get it on the record and establish a pattern of managerial misconduct that becomes harder to defend with every additional incident. But it all begins with you standing up for yourself and your co-workers and filing that first grievance.
It also makes it easier for employees to be successful during the grievance process if the management official had several other grievance brought against them by other employees. If a management official has a record of misconduct or mistreatment of employees, not only is it easier to establish the agency’s poor judgement in promoting the management official, there are probably some BUE who applied for that same promotion and were more qualified. So your grievance loss could be your co-workers grievance victory or vice versa. And maybe this gets the misconduct to end. So when you file a grievance you are not just filing it for yourself, you are filing it for your co-workers as well and ultimately for all of us. The same thing goes for harassment complaints. Harassment can be very hard to prove for a singular event, but if there is a pattern of harassment it gets a lot easier to prove—only if all of the harassment has been reported from the beginning. And this is what a grievance will do; establish a record of bad behavior that cannot be refuted by the evidence. Sometimes we have to think strategically long term in order to bring about change. Most importantly, when in doubt about filing a grievance, don’t just abandon the idea, talk to your union rep or local president. We are here for guidance or to even “hold your hand” if that’s what you need. Don’t deprive yourself of the counsel AFGE offers its members. The important thing is that doing something is always better than doing nothing and that something can be as little as speaking to your union rep. So reach out to us and let us help you. We are here for you whether management wants us to be here or not. The more you come to us, the stronger we are; the stronger we are; and the weaker management is.