AFGE Local 476

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Money down the drainOPM's Benefits Reductions: Your Retirement Down the Drain

OPM has proposed reducing federal employee benefits, including major cuts in retirement payments

OPM has proposed increasing the amount that FERS employees contribute to their retirement, changing the basis for retirement annuities from a high-3 average salary to a high-5 average, and eliminating cost-of-living allowances for retirees.

OPM claims that the proposed changes would bring "Federal benefits more in line with the private sector," according to OPM director Jeff Pon. At a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on May 16, 2018, Dr. Pon expanded on his ideas, saying that government benefits need to "become much more portable for people to leave government and come back with portable benefits versus ones that are based upon tenure and also years of service."

In other words, your federal service isn't valued.

A major proposed change for FERS employees is to increase their contribution to their retirement by 1 percentage point a year until they are contributing 7.25% of their pay. This represents a major cut in pay, especially for employees hired before 2013, who currently contribute only .08% to their FERS retirement.

Dr. Pon displayed a distinct failure to understand his subject when talking about eliminating COLAs, the cost-of-living adjustments that allow pension payments to rise with inflation. The OPM chief clearly confused COLAs with federal employees' locality pay when he said, "When federal workers actually get COLAs, it's a part of the factor in their salaries, and when they become annuitants, it's not up to the federal government for us to determine where they move in retirement and paying for where they live." Locality pay is a salary adjustment paid on top of the base salary in certain high-cost areas in an attempt to keep the value of wages at a given grade level equivalent across the country. Retirees do not receive locality adjustments.

At the House committee hearing, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called OPM's proposed cuts "draconian."

Read more about the pay cuts on AFGE's website. Fedsmith has a video of the House committee hearing.


Local 476 President Ashaki Robinson Johns Speaks Out Against Department of Education's Anti-Union Actions

AFGE Local 476 President Ashaki Robinson Johns joined other AFGE union officials demonstrating outside the Department of Education on March 28 against DoE's decision to walk away from negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement and to establish severe restrictions on union support for the department's workers.

Instead of negotiating with the union, DoE management has imposed a new, one-sided policy statement. DoE removed long-standing agreements on telework, within-grade increases, and bonuses, and removed protections against discrimination and for disabled employees. The department also kicked the union out of its office space in the department, and removed all representational official time. The result is that Department of Education employees will not have any of the protections offered by a negotiated collective bargaining agreement or representation by Union representatives. Under the new DoE rules, union representatives need to take leave without pay in order to represent an employee, such as to file a grievance.

Ashaki Robinson Johns declared that management should be aware that unions are here to stay. DoE's actions violate federal labor-management statutes, which require management to bargain in good faith over matters related to employee working conditions.

Read more in The Washington Post and Federal News Radio.


HUD Buys Secretary Ben Carson $31,000 Dining Set with Taxpayer Money

Homeless man living under 7th street bridge

A homeless man lives under the 7th Street bridge a mere 2/10 of a mile from Secretary Ben Carson's $31,561 dining set. Photo courtesy of Google StreetView (September 2017). The same man is still living under the bridge in March 2018.

Purchase may violate federal law

The New York Times reported on February 27, 2018, that HUD Secretary Ben Carson will not return a dining room set purchased by HUD officials for the Secretary's dining room. The dining set cost taxpayers $31,561. In response to criticism in the media, Secretary Carson's friend Armstrong Williams (who does not work for HUD) announced on Thursday, March 1, that HUD was trying to cancel the order but that it might not be possible because "The person they contracted has already spent $14,000 making the table." Note: According to CNN, the table cost "more than $4,000" and a breakfront cost over $13,500.

HUD officials did not get Congressional approval, required for any furniture purchase over $5,000 under Public Law 98-473, Sec. 619 (October 12, 1984), before ordering the mahogany dining table, chairs, sideboard, and breakfront. Instead, they claimed that the dining set, located in the Secretary's 10th Floor suite, serves a "building-wide need." (How many bargaining unit employees in the Weaver Building will eat their lunch at that table?)

The Times also reported that Craig Clemmensen, who served as Interim Secretary before Dr. Carson's confirmation, had said that $5,000 "will not even buy a decent chair."

HUD Mission Statement
We believe that HUD's limited funding should be spent
to ensure that everyone can live in safe, clean, and
affordable homes, and that nobody in the U.S. needs to
live under a bridge.

How is HUD helping the man pictured above living under a bridge just 2 blocks from Secretary Carson's dining set?

Secretary Carson's dining set cost more than the annual income of over 20% of U.S. households; according to the Census Bureau, one-fifth of U.S. households have an annual income of under $25,000.

In addition to the $31,000 dining set, HUD is reportedly spending another $165,000 on "lounge furniture" for the Weaver Building, according to The Guardian, in spite of our 14%--$6.8 billion--budget cut.

The Union stands with all HUD employees who insist on adherence to the law

Helen G. Foster, formerly HUD's chief administrative officer, was transferred to head up HUD's FOIA office after she objected to the dining set purchase because it violated the law. HUD claims that Ms. Foster was reassigned as part of a "routine agency reshuffle," as reported by The Times. Ms. Foster has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel on the grounds that she was demoted and transferred after resisting attempts to get around the $5,000 redecoration law.

Although Ms. Foster is not a member of the bargaining unit and is not protected by our collective bargaining agreement, AFGE Local 476 commends her for insisting that even our highest level executives comply with federal law.

AFGE Local 476 encourages Secretary Carson to do the right thing: Write a check to the U.S. Treasury for $31,561.00 to cover the cost of the new dining furniture.

That would provide about four households with a year's worth of federal housing support, based on data from the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Even if the order is cancelled, the government is unlike to recoup all the costs. Secretary Carson should make good on the commitments made in his name, for his benefit.


Local 476 Gala Photos Now Online

Gala 2017

Photos from our 2017 Holiday Gala can now be viewed on Flickr! Check out Local 476's past albums, too, such as our 2016 Gala photos. Local 476's holiday parties are a members-only benefit.


Does HUD Really Honor Our Vets?

Remember our veteransOn November 8, HUD held a Veterans Day ceremony, giving lip service to honoring all who served our country. Yet when it comes to supporting and honoring the individuals who served, HUD has not treated our veterans with the respect they deserve.

In the last year, HUD has forced one disabled vet to resign because his managers were uncomfortable with his service-connected PTSD symptoms. The Department also initially denied another disabled vet's request to work from home full time due to a brain tumor. Thanks to the Union's help, he will be allowed to work from home temporarily while HUD debates making that reasonable accommodation permanent (see story below).

Are you a vet who feels you are treated unfairly? Are your supervisors ignoring your need for reasonable accommodations? Talk to your Union about your rights!


Secretary "Doctor Ben" Carson Ignores Union's Plea to Help HUD Employee: Disabled Vet with Brain Tumor

Tells Union Secretary "does not look into individual employee concerns"

Secretary Carson
Secretary Ben Carson
prefers formal complaints
to working with the Union
to resolve issues

Local 476 is appalled that Secretary Carson would respond to a request for help by telling a Union steward to use "employee channels" such as EEO complaints or the HUD IG hotline rather than contacting the Secretary.

It's another egregious example of how HUD ignores employees' needs and disregards the Union's responsibility to protect employee rights.

Local 476 had offered Secretary Carson an opportunity to avoid the embarassment of having a formal complaint filed when an employee--let's call him Joe--was denied a reasonable accommodation that he needed because of his brain tumor. Read the Union's letter to Secretary Carson.

The first business day after the Veterans Day holiday, chief of staff Sheila Greenwood showed no compassion for Joe, a veteran with a service connected disability. The Union has trouble imagining that anyone would lack sympathy for an employee with a brain tumor...expecially "Doctor Ben," who used to treat the exact same kind of brain tumor that Joe has: a posterior fossa mass lesion.

It's not as if Joe wanted an accommodation that would cost any money or inconvenience HUD.

All of Joe's work is portable, so when he needed the support of his family because his condition worsened, he asked to be allowed to work from home full time as a reasonable accommodation. His supervisor said yes. Higher management said no, flip-flopping between allowing him only two or three days of telework a week. For months, Joe was forced to take leave on the other days.

Until he contacted Local 476.

With his Union representative's help, Joe gained permission to work from his parents' home full time, first for six months while his higher management figured out what they will do next. After the six months were up, senior management in his program area wanted to deny his accommodation, but compromised by granting a one-year extension of the temporary accommodation. Joe still deserves to have the leave restored that he was forced, improperly, to take.

Meanwhile, instead of thanking the Union for an opportunity to resolve the problem amicably, avoiding formal complaints and bad publicity, Secretary Carson's chief of staff tells the Union to go ahead: file those complaints, blow that whistle. That was Ms. Greenwood's message.


HUD Requires Employees with Disabilities to Jump through Reasonable Accommodation Hoops

Reasonable accommodation logoAFGE Local 476 and Council 222 of HUD Locals have heard from many frustrated employees that getting a reasonable accommodation at HUD is not a smooth process. Resistance from management is a major problem.

Employees also face management's ignorance of the laws governing reasonable accommodations, the collective bargaining contract provisions that apply to bargaining unit personnel, and even HUD's own policies.

Common complaints include:

Reasonable Accommodation Myths and Facts at HUD

Myth: Employees are required to prepare and submit a Form HUD-1000 to request a reasonable accommodation.

Fact: Employees may submit their requests in any medium they choose, using a HUD-1000, email, or even oral request. If an employee does not fill out the form, the supervisor is responsible for doing so.

Myth: Employees may need to re-submit HUD-1000s to clarify their requests.

Fact: The form is for HUD's record-keeping. Bargaining unit employees don't need to submit, or resubmit the form.

Myth: Supervisors need approval from higher management to grant reasonable accommodation requests.

Fact: First-line supervisors not only have the authority, but also the obligation, to grant no-cost and many low-cost reasonable accommodations.

Myth: It takes a long time to get a reasonable accommodation at HUD.

Fact: That's unfortunately often true, but it shouldn't be. The decision maker, generally the first-line supervisor, is required to issue a decision within seven days of receiving an oral or written request for a reasonable accomodation.

Myth: HUD does not have to grant reasonable accommodations if it does not generally provide that treatment to other employees.

Fact: HUD is required to grant reasonable accommodations that do not impose an undue hardship on the agency and that will resolve the difficulty imposed by a disability.

Myth: Employees always need to provide documentation to support a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Fact: Employees don't need to provide documentation when both the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious or when it has been provided in the past. Employees with chronic or permanent disabilities do not have to provide updates or renewals of previously submitted documentation.


HUD Still at Bottom of Best Places to Work Rankings

Best Place to Work Chart

Click the image to go to the Best Places to Work Rankings

 

HUD's 2016 rank among the best places to work in the government for mid-size agencies remains abysmal in spite of years of effort by management.

Unfortunately, management's efforts to "engage" employees for the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey don't translate into real improvements in employee's working conditions.

Ranking 24th out of 27 mid-size agencies, HUD's overall score was 58.2, up less than 6 points from the previous year.

Looking at key categories such as "Support for Diversity" (55.0), Performance-Based Awards & Advancement (46.1), and Work-Life Balance (58.9), it's easy to see why HUD's overall score remains low. And in the overall "Effective Leadership" category, HUD management rated only 54.7 points.

With supervisors denying employees the option to telework three days a week, as permitted under our contract for ALL bargaining unit personnel provided there's no work-related need, and a growing number of performance standards that don't meet the SMART criteria, no wonder HUD employees consider HUD to be among the worst agencies to work.

Take a look at how major subcomponents of HUD performed. The worst performers were Office of the Chief Information Officer, Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, and Ginnie Mae, which ranked a shameful 296 out of 305 agency subcomponents. At the top: Office of the General Counsel, Office of Policy and Development, and Office of the Chief Financial Officer.


HUD Attempts to Limit Bargaining with Union

HUD has refused to pay the travel expenses of Union negotiators in an effort to avoid bargaining with AFGE Council 222 over what the Department has characterized as “union-initiated changes.”

When the Council requested data related to HUD’s expenditures on bargaining-related travel, HUD refused to provide the information. HUD said that it could not respond to the Council’s FOIA request because it was “very broad,” and that it “would be quite costly to produce” the information requested because of the many hours of professional search time that would be required.

In spite of the difficulties imagined by the FOIA office, the labor relations office was able to provide some of the information the Council requested under federal labor-management statutes: Data related to travel expenses for Union negotiators for the past two years was provided (the Union had requested data for the past three years).

The Employee and Labor Relations Division, however, refused to provide data on travel expenses incurred by management negotiators. The Union has to wonder what HUD is hiding related to managers’ travel.

Given the current political animus against public sector unions, HUD’s recent actions seem to be part of a concerted effort to marginalize the Union and remove employee protections. In recent months, HUD has:

HUD says it wants to work with the Union, but these actions don’t support that claim.


FLRA Requires HUD to Resolve Union's Unfair Labor Practice Complaint

Notice to All Employees Settles Union Complaints Against HUD

FLRA Notice

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) required HUD to send out a Notice to All Employees (click the image to see a full-size copy) by email and to post it on bulletin boards to settle complaints of an unfair labor practice that the Union had filed against HUD.

The Union had filed two complaints with the FLRA because HUD did not respond properly to the Union’s request for information related to a proposed new Personnel Security and Suitability Policy handbook. The first complaint was based on HUD's failure to provide requested information. The second complaint was filed because HUD tried to force the Union to bargain over implementation before providing the information necessary for effective representation of the bargaining unit. Steward Jerry Gross represented the Union in this matter, demonstrating to the FLRA why the information and documentation requested was essential.

The FLRA required HUD to provide all available information and to distribute the Notice as HUD’s public commitment to respond to Union requests for information in a timely manner in the future. Read the settlement agreement.

You have the right to be represented by the Union to the best of our abilities. That means that we need to have all relevant information before we negotiate the implementation of a new policy. Although HUD did not initially provide the required information, we commend management for ultimately providing all available information so that we can work together to ensure that an important new policy handbook is implemented fairly and equitably.   


Ashaki Robinson Johns
Ashaki Robinson Johns,
AFGE Local 476 President

Union Wins Posting in Unfair Labor Practice Case

AFGE Local 476 President Ashaki Robinson Johns fights to protect employee rights

When employees contacted the Union about a SES manager who threatened to use her “managerial power” against them if they contacted the Union about how they were being treated in the office, Local 476 President Ashaki Robinson Johns jumped into action. She filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

The FLRA found that the manager violated the employees' right to Union representation that is guaranteed by Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. In a settlement of the case, HUD was required to post a notice electronically and physically throughout the Weaver Building promising not to "say or do anything that discourages employees from contacting the Union."

President Robinson Johns says that the case serves to reassure employees of their legal right to representation. "You have the right to join, participate and assist your Union. No one is allowed to prevent you from exercising that right. Your Union will always do its best to ensure that you are afforded all of the rights to which you are entitled," explains Robinson Johns.

You Should Know

AFGE's Legislation and Politics has information on legislation that you care about.

Local 476's photos are on Flickr!


Local 476 Legislative Political Committee Weekly Meetings

Thursdays, 12:00-12:30pm,
Room 5155

The AFGE Local 476 Legislative Political Committee focuses on issues that directly impact HUD employees who work in the Washington, DC area. The job of this committee is to build relationships with their Members of Congress and their staff in order to be well connected when legislation could negatively impact our members. Take a break and check out our new Legislative Committee. In these lightning meetings, we will share what other members have done and show you what you can do to protect and promote your salary, earned benefits, and more. These meetings will be quick, light, and won’t take up your whole lunch break. Please contact Jordan Ghasemi, Local 476 Legislative/Political Coordinator for more information.


Worried about being called into the boss's office?

Do You Know Your Rights?

You Don't Have to Go It Alone!

If you think a conversation with management may lead to disciplinary action, ask for a Local 476 steward or officer. It's your "Weingarten right."

You can ask at any time in the discussion that your Union representative be present. Your Union is here to support you.

But YOU have to ask. Management does not have to tell you about this right.

This is one of your "Weingarten Rights," named for a Supreme Court decision (read more). It applies to investigative interviews where you are asked to answer questions that you think may lead to a disciplinary action. You do not have the be the subject of an investigation.

If you are asked to answer questions, and you think that the discussion could lead to discipline, you should ask for a Union representative or officer. You do not have to put your request in writing.

Keep our handy Weingarten card in your wallet so you remember what to say!

You have the right to:

Read more about your rights in an investigative interview.

November 25, 2016. After a HUD SES manager threatened an entire office of bargaining unit employees with reprisal if they contacted the Union about working conditions, the FLRA ordered HUD to post a notice promising not to interfere with employee rights in the future. Read the underlying complaint and the email from Local 476 President Ashaki Robinson Johns explaining the posting to employees.


Performance Improvement Plans

Have you received a poor performance evaluation? Has your supervisor mentioned that a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is being considered as part of an evaluation of your individual work performance? Beware! In the Union's experience, the use of a PIP is often the beginning of the removal or demotion process. If you have been placed on a PIP, or have just received a poor performance evaluation, contact the Union immediately! Read more.


Anonymous Surveys...Not So Secret

What does "Confidential" really mean?

HUD employees are often asked to fill out surveys, from the nationwide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to those conducted by small offices. Often the surveys are labeled anonymous or confidential. What does this really mean?

In the case of the EVS, anonymous means that the Department is not given enough detailed data to link any specific responses to an individual in an office. You're pretty safe.

With smaller, more localized surveys, it's easier to link an individual to the responses. How would you feel if you current supervisor found out that you answered "Never" to questions such as "How often did your supervisor follow policy and procedures?" or "...demonstrated fair and equal treatment?"

Just because a survey says it's confidential doesn't make it so.

There are NO guarantees that your opinions won't be shared with your present or future supervisors.

Even if your name isn't revealed, if your information comes from an "exit survey" when you leave one HUD office for another, it probably won't be hard to figure out who expressed those opinions.

So, before you turn in a survey, whether or not you've put your name on it, ask yourself:


Telework
Work is not a place. It's what you do.

Telework is good for employees, good for HUD, good for the metro area, and good for the environment. Management attitudes are our biggest barrier to implementing telework more effectively.

Situational and emergency telework is good for continuity of operations but it does not respond to the need for regular telework for all eligible employees. Local 476 is working to improve telework benefits for our employees. Read more about HUD telework policies.

Telework in Emergency Conditions

Wondering what you're supposed to do when the office is closed due to inclement weather and other emergencies? See HUD's Telework Policy Handbook (page 20) and the Article 18, Telework in our 2015 contract for guidance.


Money-Saving Discounts for Members
discount tags

Did you know that Union members can save money on travel, shopping, insurance, education and health benefits, even financial and legal services? From computers to cars, amusement parks to real estate...your membership pays you back in many ways. Check out the details on our Benefits page and start saving today!