A group of Democratic senators has reconsidered a long-awaited effort to expand the Administrative Security Judicial Negotiating Unit in the Social Security Administration, backed by recent Biden administration guidelines aimed at promoting collective bargaining in federal agencies.
In 2007, then-Social Security Commissioner Michael Astru set up the agency’s National Hearing Center, a cadre of administrative law judges who would parachute into regions with long-standing disability claims, but he left component staff out of the department. to negotiate the ALJ in the Hearing Office, represented by the Association of Judges of Administrative Law.
In 2011, the Federal Employment Authority sided with Astrue, finding that although judges at the National Hearing Center have almost identical job responsibilities, they are management officials because they control decision-makers. However, FLRA also found that the agency had committed unfair employment practices by showing hostility to the union and failing to notify the group of the creation of the component.
In a letter to Acting Social Security Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi last month, five Democratic senators, led by Senator Sherod Brown, Ohio, called on the agency to consider the classification of judges in the National Hearing Center as employees of a negotiating body and provides them with access to the Association of Judges of Administrative Law. They cite the fact that in the years since the FLRA’s decision, the differences in ALJ’s responsibilities in both components of the agency have disappeared.
“Indeed, the job description for NHC judges was and remains almost identical to the job description for ALJ in the hearing offices, except that the NHC ALJ job description shows that these judges may have supervisory tasks.” the senators write. “[Since] With the creation of the NHC, the alleged “supervisory” duties of NHC judges have been essentially eliminated, and the position of the NHC ALJ for all purposes is the same as that of the ALJ Negotiating Unit. “
And AALJ President Som Ramrup said Government executive that her union had learned more in recent years about the duties of judges at the National Hearing Center, as some of these judges had taken positions in traditional hearings and joined the negotiating department. What they found was that much of the oversight of these judges was a mirage.
“They told us they didn’t really have any oversight powers,” she said. “Even when they tried to take some power, they were told that they could not do it from a higher level of government. So it’s really just a lie – a supervisory body just by name – just to keep them out of the bargain.
Ramrup called the dichotomy between traditional social security administrative law judges and judges at the National Hearing Center a “double-breasted” operation, similar to anti-union practices in the private sector, where one company effectively manages two operations: one trade union to competes for contracts that give priority to offers of organized labor, and another without unions for everything else.
“Even when FLRA issued this decision, excluding the National Hearing Center from the negotiating body, even in this decision they found that the agency was showing anti-union hostility,” she said. “This is the context we are dealing with here. All this happened in order to avoid dealing with the union and using the backlog at the time as a trick to create this dual system.
Both the union and the senators cited a February report by the White House working group on organizing and empowering workers, which, among other things, recommended agencies and the OPM are reviewing preliminary decisions on which positions should be excluded from the negotiating bodies. Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle declined to answer questions about whether the agency would reconsider its exclusion of judges from the National Hearing Center from the ALJ’s negotiating department, and said Kijakazi would respond directly to lawmakers.
And last month, the Social Security Administration published a job advertisement USAJOBS.gov is looking for 1,000 candidates to become new administrative law judges within the Hearing Office. However, contrary to the OPM guidelines issued last autumn, the publication does not mention whether the jobs qualify for union membership or that the positions will be represented by the Association of Judges of Administrative Law.
Hinckle declined to answer questions about why the agency did not mention the status of the contracting positions.