February 28, 2020 - Edwin Osorio - 2nd Vice President
To truly appreciate what an SSA Bargaining Unit Employee (BUE) otherwise known as a frontline employee does in the course of their duty, you would need to understand what motivates a frontline employee to take a job that does not keep pay parity with its private sector counterpart. Additionally, frontline employees go through an intense four month rudimentary training period that merely scratches the surface of what a frontline employee is required to know to properly serve the public. It takes about three years for an employee to attain a journeyman status—and still not fully prepared. Some may argue that you never fully achieve a mastery of the programs administered by SSA; policies and procedural changes continuously inundate employee’s, making the job dispositive to the challenges of practicing law.
The rewards sought by frontline employees are intangible and go beyond financial recompense; the satisfaction and sometimes exhilaration of providing a veritable lifeline to an SSI applicant that has not been able to pay the rent for a prolonged period of time, or the disabled individual that never thought their life would be the same after a horrible accident then receives the assistance of a frontline employee and has their claim adjudicated, thus providing them with the resources to put food on their table. These are just two quintessential examples that epitomize what occurs far more often than one would imagine. In the course of a typical frontline employee’s career, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, are paid out to the most disadvantaged Americans. Collectively, frontline employees serve a vital role in providing for the welfare of the American people by assuring the most disadvantaged a safety net through their years of retirement or abbreviated work due to disability. The role of frontline employees should be sacrosanct and preeminently recognized for its service to the American public with honor and distinction.
All of this occurs under the auspices of a deluge of work that is exponentially overwhelming the resources of SSA. Instead of seeking pragmatic solutions to the overabundance or work and overburdened frontline employees, the agency chooses to expose its frontline employees to a toxic work environment that results in alienation and detachment from the very elements that provides them with fulfilment and a sense of purpose. For years SSA has referred to the BUE as its “most valued asset.” Counterintuitive to this supposition, the agency has done virtually nothing to protect or enhance its “most valued asset” and unceremoniously targeted the BUE with an unrelenting deprivation of their rights and protections. Methodically, the agency has degraded working conditions by extracting from its frontline employees everything they have and more. Detrimental to all BUE, the agency has chosen to evade the obvious; the anticipated consequence of a cumulated deficiency of federal service by the maladministration of the agency.
This underlying perfidious behavior towards its own frontline employees is nothing less than a complete abdication of the agency’s own mission statement and its commitment to the American people. This egregious condescension towards the BUE is clearly a contrivance predicated on the political machinations of an inimical administration. The extraction of every ounce of what the BUE has to give must be juxtaposed with the agency’s nefarious manipulation of data in order to hide what should be most evident: the agency is understaffed and will never competently fulfil its mission statement to the American people without hiring more frontline employees. This is supported by the agency’s ostensible aversion to hiring additional frontline employees and diverting funds to technology that more often impedes the frontline employee’s ability to serve the American people.
SSA has closed nearly 70 field offices since 2010 and reduced its field office staff by over 4,000 frontline employees in order to handle an increase of over 15 % in visitors to the office or over the phone. The agency sees an increase of over one million people every year and the agency’s answer to this problem is to get the frontline employees to do more. The way they do this is by expecting frontline employees to shorten the time spent with the public; have them interview more people every day; subject them to incessant management micromanagement in order to overtax the BUE and satisfy management’s self-interests.
The agency does all of this surreptitiously by manipulating waiting time statistics and exploiting the BUE in order to maximize their efforts at the risk of the health of the BUE. By depressing the actual waiting times for visitors that are in the office or on the phone, the agency attempts to make the case it does not need additional frontline employees—then cajole the frontline employees into undertaking more work than physically possible—thus, setting them up for failure.. The deceptive results justify its tacit policy of hiring one employee for every three lost to attrition, retirement, or resignation—when no hiring freeze has been imposed. In reality, employees are mentally and emotionally fatigued; overwhelmed with voluminous workloads and no time to complete them; and are subordinated by the ubiquitous managerial practice of favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism that compels frontline employees to acquiesce to the whims of management; often forsaking their own rights and protections due to fear of retaliation or reprisal. This is a chronic epidemic that has so severely permeated the psyche of frontline employees it has impeded their ability to achieve efficiency in their federal duties. So while frontline employees should be thriving on their fortuitous opportunities to serve their country with distinction, they are instead subjected to mental and emotional duress that cheats them of their sense of civic pride; their preeminent role as civic servants and stewards to the SSA trust fund is denied to them; they are instead relegated to a survival of the fittest environment that places a value in sycophancy at the expense of ethical and conscientious frontline employees.
In contrast to the agency’s devaluation of the BUE, the BUE are the foundation and spirit of SSA. We must make every effort to defeat the agency’s attempts to marginalize us by exposing us to impossible circumstances and exploiting us. This begins with every BUE recognizing their value and their significant contributions to the agency and the American people. Once we all understand and appreciate our value, we can begin to push back on the agency’s incessant need to take away our rights and expose us to harmful circumstances. AFGE is here to do just that. Let your local union rep know what is happening and allow then to be your voice; when you fail to exercise your voice, you empower management and contribute to the devaluation of all frontline employees. We must stop validating their mismanagement and we must do it now!