The Social Security Administration is still on its way to bring most of its employees back to the office on March 30thand plans to increase personal service to the public, including walk-in service to customers without an appointment, starting in early April.
However, SSA management expects longer waiting times than usual for clients seeking assistance, for at least the first month in which the agency opens its doors to pedestrian traffic.
SSA seeks to hire retired employees back on a temporary basis to help with crowds expected to line up at their field offices when accepting walk-in customers.
In a call obtained by the Federal News Network, SSA has urged bureau retirees to help enter the office and reopen field offices to the public.
The SSA said it was looking for temporary support at about 400 field offices during re-entry. The agency plans to hire retirees to work in field offices for up to 30 days, but may extend assignments depending on office needs.
Temporary employment will be paid at a GS-11 base rate of $ 74,074 per year, plus local pay based on their location.
SSA retirees accepted for this job will also receive a double compensation exemption, which will allow agency retirees to continue to deduct their full monthly annuity and a full salary without reduction.
The agency also offers to cover travel expenses, including expenses for accommodation and unemployment benefits, as needed for SSA pensioners who have to work longer from home.
“The agency will make every effort to allocate people to field offices closest to their homes to minimize the need for overnight travel. In some cases, however, there may be a need for accommodation,” the call said.
Eligible retirees must have retired from a non-bargaining unit position and taken an optional pension in order to be eligible for this temporary job.
SSA retirees selected for this temporary job are expected to work at their assigned field office from 6 p.m. 8:00 to 16:30. Selected employees will receive a two-hour training session of Microsoft Teams before starting their assignment.
These temporary appointments will help the field office management monitor the operation of the reception area and queues of visitors waiting for personal service. The SSA said this task could include working outside or in adjacent spaces to help manage “overflow lines.”
Other responsibilities include tracking visitor numbers and waiting times, communicating health and safety measures in place at field visitors’ offices, and collecting visitor information when needed.
Temporary employment is also expected to provide “information material about our electronic services to visitors.”
SSA retirees have until March 18 to send an email to the agency and express interest in the temporary assignment.
SSA Press Officer Mark Hinkle confirmed to the Federal News Network that the agency’s re-entry plans include employee information and the re-employment of retired SSA workers.
Hinkle also said the agency “strongly encourages” the public to schedule appointments in advance online or over the phone.
“Customers who go in without appointments may encounter delays and longer waits at our busy offices,” Hinkle said.
SSA Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications Darlynda Bogle said in a blog posts on the agency’s website that SSA will “add more personal agreements and offer personal service to individuals without an agreement,” starting in early April.
Bogle said millions of SSA customers received help over the phone and at field offices by appointment during the pandemic, urging customers to continue using these services.
“For people who can access our services online or by phone, we ask that they continue to shop with us online or by phone and schedule an appointment whenever possible, which will better allow us timely to serve people who cannot use these opportunities, “Bogle wrote on Monday.
SSA agrees to 5-day telework for some employees in the Hearing Office
However, SSA employees have different teleworking flexibility and expectations of re-entering the office depending on which component of the agency they work for.
Christie Saunders, president of National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 224, said the SSA has agreed to require its employees to telework up to five days a week, at least until the end of a six-month evaluation period.
NTEU Chapter 224 represents attorneys and associates working for SSA’s Office of Hearing Operations. These employees make disability decisions once an SSA administrative court judge has made a decision in a case.
“The work we do as decision writers is pretty much fully portable, and we’ve been able to continue doing that work solely while we’ve been telecommuting for almost two years now,” Saunders said in an interview Tuesday.
Support staff, also represented by NTEU Local 224, are allowed to telework up to four days a week, depending on workload.
SSA has accepted this telework at least through an “evaluation period” that runs through September 30th.
“Based on the data they collect over that period, they will make future decisions about what teleworking will look like,” Saunders said.
NTEU Local 224 is waiting to hear from the SSA about health and safety measures for re-entry into the office.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently eased federal mask requirements, the union has a memorandum of understanding on workplace safety that requires masks in the office.
“We just want to understand what the agency’s position is. Will they continue to implement the masking requirement? Or will it be relaxed at all? And so far we have not received any comments from them, “said Saunders.
Trade union for field office staff bumps head with SSA over telework
However, the American Federation of Government Employees Council 220 describes negotiations with SSA management that have been more controversial and less productive.
AFGE Council 220, which represents bargaining unit staff in SSA’s field offices and telephone service centers, sent SSA a request to negotiate on March 7, outlining aspects of re-entry into office that both parties have not agreed on after four rounds of bargaining.
AFGE Council 220 Executive Vice President Bill Price said the agency, so far in meetings with the union, has “refused to agree to implement any of our proposed ideas” for a safe return to office.
“The union not only offered ideas that would keep employees, their families and the public safe, we also offered ideas that would improve the public service by implementing a business model more in line with current work trends. Our proposal would attract and retain qualified candidates and employees who would provide quality service to the public, ”Price wrote.
According to Price, SSA has proposed changing the terms of employment that have been in place for the past two years.
That Memorandum of Understanding SSA and AFGE agreed in January required that both parties hold numerous meetings on component-level reentry, workplace safety and evaluation period issues.
Price said SSA’s proposed reentry plan would exclude employees represented by AFGE Council 220 teleworking two days in a row, or have a teleworking plan that has employees out of office for more than two, three or four days in a row.
SSA, according to Price, would also be able to suspend telework for a “management-specific business need.”
“The board shall NOT implement any aspect of the proposed changes to the terms of employment as outlined in its re-entry notice until all aspects of the bargaining process have been concluded with the union, even through a stalemate. The union also reserves the right to seek members’ ratification of any changes before they are final, ”Price wrote.
AFGE Council 220 seeks in its demand to negotiate parking subsidies for employees who need to return to the office, as well as internet subsidies or agency-issued Wi-Fi hotspots for employees who work remotely.
“The union is not interested in negotiations after implementing any aspect of the agency’s proposed change,” Price wrote.
The union warns that crowds could hurt customer service levels
Angela Digeronimo, vice president of AFGE Local 220, said the union has not yet reached an agreement with SSA on a post-office reentry teleworking scheme for its employees.
Digeronimo said the union has also pushed for SSA’s field offices to remain open by appointment during the current six-month evaluation period.
“That does not mean there would be no way you could just go in. There are very hard needs. There are also situations where a person can not come back. But they would be rare and on a case-by-case basis,” said Digeronimo.
Digeronimo said the SSA’s plans to re-employ agency retirees suggest that agency management realizes that field offices will soon be “flooded with people because we have not been open for a long time.”
If field offices remained open only by appointment and expanded appointment calendars to better manage the flow of customers entering field offices, Digeronimo said the agency would be able to maximize its level of service to the public and avoid frustrating customers with long waits if they show up in person.
“We have already done that. Members of the public have turned up at their agreed time, and then been taken care of, and they are going their merry way. They have commented that this is so much better, you take me right on time. “And now I’m leaving. It’s wonderful, I do not spend hours in a row here to be served,” said Digeronimo.
Digeronimo said the union made proposals for teleworking to SSA management, which would enable the agency to increase staff without increasing the need for office space, and would better serve customer needs.
“We would be able to better serve the public instead of being a dinosaur agency, where we go back to long waits in the lobby of a social security office, where people have to wait two, three, sometimes four hours, to see an injury specialist. , ”Said Digeronimo.
Digeronimo said the union proposed allowing employees of the telephone service center to work remotely, but SSA management rejected this proposal but offered to allow up to four days of teleworking per week.
“That one day in the office they are going to do the same work that they would do while working remotely. So there is really no reason. We could greatly reduce the rental price for these facilities if we migrated them to a completely remote workforce. “We may be able to just keep small placements, or make up for it completely,” Digeronimo said.
“It’s not a plan for the future where we could really do anything to make our service much better for the public [and] make the experience better for the public, ”she added. “It’s unfortunate.”