By Edwin Osorio 2nd Vice President
Annual leave is time paid by the employer to the worker for the purpose of rest and relaxation. It allows workers to engage in activities that are most appealing to them and provides them with a diversion from the work that they do. And while Americans are notorious for not using their annual leave compared to their European counterparts—on average 7.2 days a year according to Project Time Out—the concept of annual leave originated in America. The 1910 proposition of President Taft to give all workers two to three months paid leave never gained any real momentum and soon after Germany and Sweden both passed legislation granting workers seven weeks of paid leave. This American failure does not change the acceptance that American workers need paid leave in order to enhance the morale of workers by giving them an opportunity to experience the many splendors of life. This concept was moderately accelerated in the 1930’s with the emerging influence of Unions and in the 1940’s due to wage controls during World War II, annual leave was relied upon as a compensatory incentive to attract workers.
When employees are provided this paid leave liberally and not made to feel like their jobs are being jeopardized by using it, employees become motivated and more prolific at their work. This turns into a windfall because successful productivity breeds high morale and conduces a contagion of good will that permeates the workplace; it becomes largesse not only for the employee, but the employer as well in the form of productivity. This is no different for SSA bargaining unit employees who begin their careers with great reverence for the role they are playing as custodians of the greatest anti-poverty program contrived by the U.S. government. At least a part of what makes this vocation attractive to many is the annual leave that is earned by SSA bargaining unit employees incrementally.
Because annual leave has become part of an employee’s compensation package, the unwarranted manipulation of annual leave in anyway constitutes a breach in their agreement that would be tantamount to withholding an employee’s paycheck. The one protection SSA bargaining unit employees had from management’s withholding of annual leave was the protection of the collective bargaining agreement. At least this was the case the last time the Union actually agreed on one which was in 2012. In the 2012 National Agreement, SSA management was required to make every reasonable effort to allow as many employees as possible to use their annual leave. For sure it was not always adhered to, but the Union had a legal basis to dispute any violations that were in conflict of the collective bargaining agreement.
With the vicissitudes of the 2019 National “Disagreement” a multitude of degraded Union/employee rights that eviscerated the spirit of employees and single-handedly impeded federal service with the demoralization of civil service within SSA. With the “mere stroke of a pen” the agency now has the ability to renege on a valued component of compensation to employees by allowing it to have complete and capricious discretion over an employee’s ability to use annual leave with the subjective and ornery predication of “operational needs.” Instead of applying every reasonable effort to allow as many employees to use annual leave (as required in the 2012 contract), now management operatives have the right to indiscriminately consider the operational needs in an office, without having to validate these operational needs before approving annual leave.
These “operational needs” can impose no change to the imperative and rehabilitative properties that are inherent in annual leave. However, they do detract from an employee’s willingness to request annual leave due to the higher probability of having their request denied. It is human nature to not make a request when the likelihood of denial is virtually certain. Many management operatives often take advantage of their position of authority out of subservience to their superior operatives. When a management operative lacks the imagination to balance the needs of the American public with the needs of the bargaining unit with any modicum of equity, the default position is always to deny the use of annual leave. This is further exacerbated by the fact that SSA has been steadily reducing the number of employees while the agency has simultaneously experienced a rise in demand from the American public. This incongruent and imprudent position by the agency is counterintuitive to the obvious solution of hiring more employees to do the job. The tacit idea is to exploit the bargaining unit employees by extracting as much from the employees as possible—hence the impetus to deny annual leave; and the employee must be in the office to be exploited.
In 2019 this exploitation of the bargaining unit employees was tacitly pursued when the agency imposed a coercive collective bargaining agreement that legitimized the summarily easy denial of annual leave predicated upon the perceived exponential rise in operational needs in SSA offices that can conceivably be the basis for denying annual leave requests in perpetuity; and when you make annual leave approvals scarce, it becomes more of a perceived bonus when approved rather than a pro forma fulfillment of an agreed upon compensation between employee and employer.
This steady erosion of employee morale while not quantitative, anecdotally and preponderously has become the second biggest reason for a diminution of productivity, second only to the many inept management operatives that are more interested in the appearance of achievement over the actual accomplishment of predetermined goals that serve the American public—to their defense, an inadequate number of employees is the root cause of this structural defect. In order for SSA to actually achieve its mission of serving the American public effectively and efficiently, it needs to treat its bargaining unit employees with dignity and respect. SSA must begin by not only ceasing its practice of attempting to extract beyond the limits of what bargaining unit employees are physically capable of, but also hire a sufficient number of employees commensurate with public demand. Only then will management operatives devolve from their initial instinct to deny annual leave because it makes their job easier. Management operatives need to be trained on how to manage with less when circumstances demand it. Instead of making it more difficult for bargaining unit employees to use their earned and compensatory annual leave, management operatives should be encouraging the use of annual leave because well-rested and reenergized workers ultimately pay higher dividends in the final analysis. This is an investment in the workforce that does not cost the agency additional resources because the indemnity has already been established and accounted for; it just needs to be fortified.