Statement of John Reusing, Claims Authorizer, Division of International
and Third Vice-President, American Federation of Government Employees
Local 1923, Baltimore, Maryland
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Social Security
of the House Committee on Ways and Means
Hearing on Labor-Management Relations at the Social Security Administration
July 23, 1998
My name is John Reusing and I have been an employee at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, Md. for twenty-five years. I am currently a claims authorizer in the Agency's Division of International Operations. I have been active in Unions for 30 years; and I am currently the third vice president of AFGE Local 1923, where I have served as a steward or an officer for 15 years. Despite the demands of my Union position, I have always felt an obligation to spend a portion of my time working for the taxpayers by performing the duties of my job. This practice has allowed me to be a more effective advocate of employee concerns and meet my dual obligation to the taxpayers and SSA employees. Unfortunately, many of my Union colleagues do not share my views.
The Union rarely consults employees on major issues and often does not inform the employees of the decisions it makes. Union activists in my Local do not believe they are accountable to management or the employees. There is virtually no supervision of officers and stewards by management or Union officials. This has led to rampant abuse of official time. Union officers usually conduct internal Union business on official time. They attend Union meetings, campaign for Union office and work on the Union budget while on official time. Employees have observed Union activists selling real estate, working at Camden Yards stadium and doing home maintenance while on official time. On many occasions I have seen my colleagues using official time to go shopping, conduct personal business or pursue hobbies such as fishing, golf and record collecting. However, the most common complaint of employees and managers is that the Union officials are just not there. They are on official time but they are not on site. Official time has also been used for political activity. Training meetings have been used to rally stewards to support political candidates. Union dues have also been used for political contributions. When these abuses are discovered, no action is taken. Management has learned that it can get anything it wants from the Union if it grants enough official time.
Union representatives have learned how to use the EEO process to get unlimited official time. Complaints that could have been resolved under the less costly grievance process are filed under EEO so the steward can get more time. EEO time does not count against the Agency's labor relations budget, and therefore, probably did not show up in the OIG audit.
The partnership agreement is probably the worst thing that has happened to SSA employees and the taxpayers. With partnership came the implementation of pass/fail ratings and award panels. These changes have lowered morale and reduced productivity. The OIG report grossly underestimated the time spent on partnership. Most people involved in partnership committees are not Union activists; some are not even members. They serve on award panels, work groups, and as facilitators.
Award committees are the worst aspect of partnership. Each year about 10% of the employees in my office spend two or more weeks giving out awards. For the most part they give awards to themselves and their friends. When employees complain to the Union, they are told that they don't have a case. If they file an EEO complaint, a high ranking official in the Union interferes in the investigation. Partnership councils are also being used to advance the careers of corrupt Union officials. Management gets what it wants, and the Union sells out the employees.
Unions are supposed to be democratic organizations that represent the interests of their members. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the Social Security Administration headquarters in Baltimore, Md. The real business of the Union is to protect the position of Union officers and, if possible, advance them to a national Union office. They use their offices to provide employment opportunities to their family members and their friends, to obtain promotions for themselves, and to obtain special retirement opportunities that are not available to other employees. Union officers spend all day, every day on official time. They hold office for most of their careers since reelection is practically guaranteed. Favored reps receive additional official time for their allegiance to the executive board, therefore, they do not need to do additional representation to stay away from their jobs. Many dedicated representatives have been forced out because of Union politics or have left in disgust. The representatives that remain do not have the training or the inclination to handle an arbitration or complex issues.
In the last year alone four Union officers and stewards, who have challenged these practices or investigated Union corruption, have been removed from their positions and stripped of their duties. They have been harassed by other activists and their property vandalized. I have been relieved of my duties twice in my fifteen year career as an officer and steward with AFGE. In December, 1995 I was fired as a steward for speaking out against the pass/fail rating system. In 1996 I decided to run for Union office. I was contacted by the same high ranking Union official, who only months before had fired me, and I was offered a deal. I would be given 100% official time for the rest of my career as long as I did not run for office and embarrass Union officials. This same offer was made to another candidate. I declined the offer and was elected third vice president of the Local. I was removed from this position in October,1997 for investigating financial irregularities in the Union and uncovering election fraud in the Local. Another factor that made me unpopular with the Union bosses was that I continued to work at my regular job for 15 or 20 hours per week, and I still handled a heavier case load than the other Union officers. There is no reason why my colleagues could not do the same.
It is my opinion that partnership and a self serving Union have severely damaged the Agency. Employees dislike pass /fail ratings. Award panels have caused friction among employees and are universally viewed as unfair and an invasion of privacy. Managers are powerless because they do not have the ability to reward or discipline employees. These misguided policies are affecting the Agency's ability to serve the public and should not be allowed to continue.
I would encourage your committee to take action to eliminate pass/fail ratings and award panels. I would encourage you to end partnership or severely limit its scope. I recommend that Union activists spend at least 50% of their time at their government jobs. I would also recommend that managers verify that official time is spent only on Union activities.
In conclusion, I believe that the issues of partnership and Union activity at SSA have a dramatic effect on employee morale, and therefore, are as important as any issue facing the Agency in the coming years . For without the commitment and dedication of SSA employees all of the Agency's initiatives are doomed to failure. Thank you for allowing me to express my concerns on this issue.