SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION BALTIMORE, MARYLAND AND SSA GENERAL COMMITTEE, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

AND

SSA GENERAL COMMITTEE, AMERICAN

FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT

EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 96 FSIP 159

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    The SSA General Committee, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland (SSA or Employer).

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance, which involves a dispute over the implementation of the Field Office Telephone Service Monitoring pilot, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with Panel Member Stanley M. Fisher for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issues. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mr. Fisher would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his recommendations for resolving the issues. After considering the report, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to the Panel’s determination, the parties met with Mr. Fisher on December 10, 1996, and they were able to resolve 11 of the 12 issues in dispute. Following the informal conference, both parties submitted a one-page brief explaining their respective positions on the unresolved issue. Mr. Fisher has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Social Security Administration is responsible for administering retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, and supplemental security income (SSI) entitlement programs. The proposed telephone monitoring pilot will be conducted in 50 field offices in order to develop effective methodology for improving the quality of the service it provides to its customers. Nationwide, the Union represents approximately 48,200 employees. Approximately 1,500 employees will be affected by the pilot, 1,250 of whom are in the bargaining unit. They work as clerical staff, claims representatives, and service representatives. In addition to the employees in the field offices, the Union also represents a small number of employees who will be conducting the pilot in the Office of Program and Integrity Review (OPIR). The parties’ collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to expire in March 1999.

ISSUE

    The parties are at impasse over whether employees should be given up-front notice before each monitored call.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union’s proposal is as follows:

There will be up-front notice regarding call monitoring given to the employee for each monitored call.

By providing up-front notice to employees prior to each monitored telephone call, this proposal would avoid high stress levels for employees and prevent attrition levels from rising.(1) Moreover, if employees do not have sufficient notice of the monitoring, the pilot would violate various criminal statutes because employees have not expressly consented to a third party monitoring the telephone calls.(2) Its proposal is consistent with the practice of SSA’s Operations component, as well as that of the General Services Administration (GSA) and many organizations in the private sector. The Employer’s argument that up-front notice will introduce bias into the pilot is not relevant to the purpose of this pilot, which is to develop a "methodology" for monitoring field office service quality. The data obtained is not intended to be relied on to make substantive policy changes. In addition, the Employer’s estimated cost for procuring the necessary technology to implement the proposal is purely speculative.

2. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes the following:

To avoid any bias in study results and/or disruption in service, there will be no up-front notice to alert employees regarding which calls are being monitored. It is understood by the parties that this provision is not precedent setting in regard to any future expansion of field office monitoring.

Its proposal provides employees with sufficient notice of the telephone monitoring pilot because each will receive a copy of the parties’ Memorandum of Understanding, and every telephone which is subject to monitoring will be labeled. Moreover, SSA does not currently have the technology to provide up-front notice, and the cost of obtaining the necessary equipment would be substantial.(3) If employees receive such notice, they are likely to change their behavior, which would introduce an undeterminable amount of bias into the study.(4) This bias might thwart the purpose of the pilot by undermining the analysis of the feasibility of monitoring field offices.(5) The Union’s argument that this proposal might violate criminal statutes is unsubstantiated because courts have found that up-front notice may not be necessary to establish that employees have consented