The Social Security Administration will once again have to go to the mat to defend accusations that it improperly handled labor relations, this time concerning a contract with the Association of Administrative Law Judges.

Federal Labor Relations Authority Regional Director Jessica Bartlett notified the AALJ Oct. 31 that she had found sufficient evidence that SSA interfered with union officials’ rights during negotiations over their collective bargaining agreement.

AALJ alleges that the agency’s officials attempted to intimidate union leaders by threatening discipline against them for engaging in union activity that is protected in federal statute. The threats were subsequently reported to then-acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Nancy Berryhill, but SSA officials then minimized the union’s concerns at a subsequent meeting, according to AALJ President Melissa McIntosh.

“Administrative law judges work hard every day across the U.S. to uphold the laws of our country in a way that builds respect for the Social Security Administration. While we’re gratified that FLRA has found merit for our complaint, it reinforces our concerns that agency leaders are interfering with our rights as a union. This impacted our preparation for contract negotiations,” said McIntosh in a news release.

The contract negotiations between SSA and AALJ began in March 2019, but the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service determined in June that negotiations had already reached an impasse.

The two parties are currently before the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which could determine to enforce the SSA contract proposal or order the agency to return to the negotiating table, but the union has argued that such a panel is not constitutionally constructed to assert such jurisdiction in the first place.

Meanwhile, a determination on the unfair labor practice charge brought against SSA by the union will have to wait until the agency has an official general counsel appointed, rather than the current acting counsel.

The FLRA determination is the latest in a long string of contentious relations between SSA and its employee unions.

The agency has imposed strict collective bargaining agreements with both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, and employees at the operations office were recently notified that their telework program would be canceled by mid-November.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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