|NFFE Local 1998 members fighting for federal employees on Capitol Hill last fall.|
The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), which represents members in the Passport Services Office of the Department of State, has long been fighting unfair distribution of financial awards by management in the office. NFFE Local 1998 earned a significant victory with a recent arbitrator’s ruling in the matter.
Past practices consistently resulted in significantly larger portions of financial awards going to managers than to employees in the bargaining unit. Also, Quality Step Increases (QSI) were disproportionately going to managers. This QSI imbalance impacted not only employees, but taxpayers because a QSI to a highly paid manager is more expensive than to a lower grade employee.
In 2010, Local 1998 negotiated a contract that included language for a fair distribution of the financial awards. In 2011, when Local President Rob Arnold requested the prior year’s statistics to verify compliance with the agreement, management provided only the amounts for employees, but not for managers. It took the threat of arbitration for management to deliver the complete figures to the union. Upon review of the numbers, it was clear that employees were still much less likely to receive awards than managers. In some locations, to be a manager was to automatically receive an award and in other offices management awards were twice as large as the typical employees.
The matter went before an arbitrator in the summer of 2013. The Union prevailed, but management used a number of tactics to avoid its responsibility to reach a mutually agreeable solution. By 2014, passport employees were still waiting for their 2010 awards recognition. Insisting that updated and more accurate data showed only a small disparity in the awards, the agency challenged the Union to bring in an observer to verify the data contained in its electronic performance record-keeping system. Philip Snodgrass, the late NFFE Associate General Counsel, volunteered to be the Local’s observer. The day before Snodgrass was due to arrive at the agency, management representatives stated that new details cast doubt on their “corrected” set of numbers. The Agency agreed that the original set of data was correct, after all.
The agency had finally run out of tricks, and the arbitrator moved ahead in awarding NFFE Local 1998 bargaining unit employees a sum of $125,000 to correct award imbalances for 2010 and 2011. Further, it was determined that the agency was to give 25 current bargaining unit employees QSIs.
“While we have spent years getting to this point, the fight is not yet over,” said NFFE Local 1998 President and National Vice President Rob Arnold. “The 2014 awards data has been released, showing the same inequality towards employees that previous years did. Local 1998 has been forced to file yet another grievance to correct the disparity. The agency can choose to willingly abide by contract or continue to squander taxpayer dollars by favoring themselves with expensive Quality Step Increases. We hope the Agency willingly abides by the contract and commits to awards fairness.”