Shutterstock imageID: 281684063 By Mark Van Scyoc

Workforce

Arbitrator finds SSA withheld key information in dispute with judges' union

A federal arbitrator found that the Social Security Administration had withheld key information during contract negotiations with a union representing 1,200 SSA judges.

In April, the Association of Administrative Law Judges sued the Federal Services Impasses Panel, a component of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, over the legality of its decision to enforce nine provisions of a contract over which the AALJ and SSA had been in dispute. The SSA is moving to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing a lack of jurisdiction.

On May 13 the AALJ announced an arbitrator found that the SSA had failed to provide information the union sought to bolster its case during contract negotiations.

According to arbitration documents, the union had made three requests for information on issues such as the criteria upon which the agency would us for enforcing its telework policies --- information that was not shared. The AALJ filed a grievance on this score.

An arbitrator cited five violations in a decision, but also said that some of the AALJ's complaints were not founded because the union was seeking information that was internal, private or unrelated to contract negotiations.

"The agency did not give any of the specific acceptable reasons for not responding by giving the correct information which it obviously possessed and maintained," the arbitrator wrote in his decision on one instance in which the union had asked the SSA what it cost to train new judges.

AALJ President Judge Melissa McIntosh said in a statement, "SSA negotiated in bad faith and refused to work with us during the pandemic. The [agency’s] focus should be on serving the American public, not eliminating our union."

“While AALJ has repeatedly sought to resolve their concerns before the courts and other third parties, in recent decisions the FLRA has found that SSA appropriately engaged with AALJ during the course of bargaining a new national agreement,” the SSA told FCW in an email.

“The arbitrator did not find that the agency acted in bad faith during the negotiations and; further, the arbitrator refused to send SSA and AALJ back to the bargaining table as requested by the union.”

In response to AALJ’s grievances, the SSA argued in the arbitration that the information being asked for didn’t exist, was unrelated to the collective bargaining negotiations at hand, or that it was readily available to the union on the agency website.

A lawyer from the Department of Justice, who is representing the SSA as a third party in the case between AALJ and the FSIP, told the court in April that the agency would delay implementing the nine disputed contract provisions until the end of May to allow the lawsuit to be resolved.

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