Monday, October 28, 2013

socialNsecurity Appendix G

*Removal of Social Security Commissioner Astrue*
 March 03, 2009
  Miami, Fla.
 AFL-CIO Executive Council statement
Today’s unprecedented economic crisis is bringing into sharp focus Social
Security’s role as the backbone of the country’s retirement security, as
well as the irresponsibility of former President George W. Bush’s policies
in regard to this critical program.

Bush’s anti-government ideology and commitment to putting the interests of  his Wall Street contributors ahead of the retirement security of working
families led him to propose privatizing Social Security in 2006. Thankfully,
that idea was roundly rejected.

Less well known were Bush’s persistent efforts to undermine the Social
Security Administration with White House policies aimed at eroding public
confidence through misinformation and stifling the dedicated staff of the

At the core of Bush’s approach was the appointment of high-level agency
officials committed to his anti-Social Security strategy.

As a first order of business, the new administration should replace such
officials with people committed to upholding the law and dedicated to the
original vision for Social Security. This process should start with the office of commissioner.

Current Commissioner Michael J. Astrue was appointed in 2006 for a six-year  term that began in February 2007. Out of respect for the country’s decisive vote last fall against the Bush policies and for restoring government to its  rightful focus on the people’s interests instead of the monied interests,

Commissioner Astrue should resign.
Any sense of decency should have led him to submit his resignation by this time. If he continues to try to hold onto his job, the Obama Administration should seek his ouster.

Part of the Bush legacy that Astrue has continued are personnel and labor
relations policies that hobble agency staff and undermine SSA’s ability to
fulfill its duty to the American public. For example, Commissioner Astrue
has implemented a policy prohibiting SSA employees from advising SSA
claimants regarding their benefit election options. Because benefit election
options, such as month of election, impact the eventual amount of benefits
received, this prohibition deprives SSA claimants of advice and information  that is important to their claims.

Further, despite assurances at his congressional confirmation hearing that
he would improve labor relations at SSA, Commissioner Astrue has cut off all communication with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the Association of Administrative Law Judges/ International Federation  of Professional and Technical Engineers (AALJ/IFPTE), and refuses to  recognize AFGE and the AALJ/IFPTE as the exclusive representatives of many  bargaining unit employees at SSA. He refuses to meet and discuss important  work-related issues with AFGE and the AALJ/IFPTE, adversely affecting sound  labor relations and employee morale.

Commissioner Astrue has also disadvantaged unrepresented claimants in
disability hearings by not providing sufficient staff to explain new
electronic processes to them, such as their electronic disability file, and
has contributed to the disability backlog by prematurely implementing
electronic processes, such as the “iclaims” program, before they have been
fully developed.

Commissioner Astrue created national hearing centers, apart from hearing
offices, in circumvention of SSA’s obligations to the AALJ/IFPTE. This has resulted in one of the highest and costliest supervisory/managerial ratios
in SSA. In establishing national hearing centers, where only video hearings
can be conducted, Commissioner Astrue has deprived claimants of due process  by unduly encouraging them to waive in-person hearings in favor of video hearings. Commissioner Astrue has also contributed to the backlog of  disability cases by creating a work environment for SSA employees that is hostile to efficiency and effectiveness.

 In this same vein, Commissioner Astrue’s hostile and destructive actions
 toward AFGE and the AALJ/IFPTE include his unilateral and vindictive
 decision to withdraw financial support from the annual AALJ Educational
 Conference and his decision to dismantle the Employee Activity Association.

He also has understaffed field offices and teleservice centers, causing SSA’s former award-winning world-class 800 number telephone service to deteriorate to the degree that 20 percent of calls to it result in busy  signals, and 50 percent of calls to field offices are not answered. On top  of this, Commissioner Astrue closed seventeen SSA offices in 2007 – the most  in any one year in SSA’s history.

Commissioner Astrue has allowed the Office of Labor Management Relations to  create a hostile working environment for some 48,000 hardworking and dedicated SSA employees, and has not demonstrated a willingness to work with  the employee representatives to provide outstanding service to the American public. Internal Equal Employment Opportunity complaints have risen since he  took office. Furthermore, Commissioner Astrue has excessively used the Federal Career Intern Program to circumvent the federal Veterans Preference guidelines, which provide hiring and promotional opportunities for retired military workers. Compounding his lack of regard for SSA’s workforce,

Commissioner Asture has subcontracted out core SSA responsibilities,
compromising the integrity of important statutory and regulatory responsibilities, to the detriment of the American public.

 Commissioner Astrue has demonstrated a callous disregard for the Social
 Security Act by encouraging undue haste in making judicial decisions in
 disability cases and discouraging quality, thereby adversely affecting the
 American taxpayer because each disability case is valued at $250,000.
 Moreover, he has eliminated proof of age and proof of citizenship, which
 will likely result in an increase of fraud and beneficiary overpayments. In
addition, he has reduced the processing of integrity workloads, such as
 redeterminations and Continuing Disability Reviews. This has resulted in
 billions of dollars of overpayments.

 For these reasons and for his neglect of duty in administering the Social
 Security Administration and its programs, the AFL-CIO urges immediate
 presidential action to remove Michael J. Astrue as commissioner of the
 Social Security Administration.

Commissioner Trying to brake Union, AALJ,  that is.

AALJ Newsletter And President’s Report
April 20, 2009

Commissioner Astrue Takes Giant Anti-Union Step
 In the last newsletter, I discussed the decision of the arbitrator in the National Hearing Center case and I cautioned that we must be prepared for more anti-union action from this Commissioner.  Last week he authenticated my concerns when I received notice from the agency advising that it will not follow the arbitrator’s decision and it will instead file exceptions with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).   The agency also announced that it will be filing a representational petition with the FLRA alleging that the judges in the National Hearing Center are supervisors and not part of our bargaining unit.  This is dramatic anti-union conduct and it shows the true colors of the Commissioner and his lieutenants as “old fashioned unit-busters”.   We understand that the agency has Attorney David Fetter on retainer for labor law issues and we believe that it is following his advice in this matter.  The agency is using our tax money to support this anti-union program.  This action shows a total disregard of our contract and an attempt to do an “end-run” around the decision of the arbitrator. 
We know that the creation of the National Hearing Centers was a ruse and based on a fiction.  As we told the Commissioner and restated in our statements to Congress, there is nothing that can be done in the National Hearing Centers that can not be done in regular hearing offices.  This action is employment of an “anti-union” technique that is well known in labor law. 
Meanwhile, Joe Davidson referred to the decision in the Federal Diary of the Friday Washington Post.  He stated that “an arbitrator, Michael A. Murphy, ordered SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue to ‘cease and desist from refusing to recognize the union’ and ‘from displaying anti-union animus.”
New Hearing Offices
We understand that the agency will establish another hearing office in the Phoenix area and expand the Las Vegas hearing office.

Survey Posted On AALJ Website
Reminder.  The CBA Bargaining Team is preparing for the next negotiations with the Agency.  The current CBA expires in January 2010.  We have extended the Collective Bargaining Survey on our website to get the thoughts and ideas of more members.  If you have not already done so, please complete the survey and remind other judges to complete it.  It only takes a couple of minutes.  This is your Association; we want your suggestions.
Thank you.

May 11, 2009
 Arbitrator’s Decision On Removing Cases From Judges
 Last week we received an extremely important decision from an arbitrator in a case arising from a grievance regarding the agency removing several 1000 day old cases from judges to have them decided before the end of the fiscal year.  Attorney Rick Welch (Mooney-Green law firm) represented the AALJ in the case.  His summary of the decision is as follows:
 I have attached the Arbitrator’s decision from the Seattle Arbitration.  The Arbitrator held that SSA violated the contract and the judges’ judicial independence when it reassigned Judge Filion’s cases #2, 3, 4 and Judge Robinson’s case #5.  Not surprisingly, the Arbitrator held that SSA did not violate the contract when it reassigned Judge Haack’s cases.  The Arbitrator also held that SSA did not violate the contract when it reassigned Judge Filion’s case #1. 
 The Arbitrator rejected SSA’s argument that Section 404.929 gave it blanket authority to reassign cases.   The Arbitrator stated there must be a necessary and proper reason for the reassignment.  The Arbitrator explains why SSA’s actions in reassigning some of the cases violated the contract and why the reassignment of other cases did not.   The Arbitrator uses the strongest language regarding the Agency’s actions in relation to the reassignment of Judge Robinson’s case (“this case still is a veritable poster child for the kind of problems and issues that can arise when managers within the Agency are seen as making arbitrary time limits more important than careful and proper case handling.”).  
 Overall, I believe it is a well written opinion.  I am disappointed that the Arbitrator did not find the reassignment of case #1 violated the contract, but, on balance, this was a good decision for us.  
 When reading this decision in conjunction with the decision in the National Hearing Center case a disturbing trend emerges which shows an agency functioning outside the scope of the law.  The arbitrator in the National Hearing Center case found overt anti-union animus on the part of the Commissioner.  He further found that the National Hearing Center judges are part of our bargaining unit and are entitled to the benefits of our contract.  The arbitrator in most recent case found that the agency violated our collective bargaining agreement and the “decisional independence” of the judges.   
 It is our hope that the agency will reverse this unsettling trend and adopt a policy of openness and cooperation with the unions.  This change should not require a directive from the Administration in the form of partnership.
 The last decision from the arbitrator is posted on our website.

Thank you.

 Ron Bernoski

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