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SSA Trains Employees Not to Think
Posted On: Mar 15, 2021

By Edwin Osorio 2nd Vice President

            In 1977 David Berkowitz terrorized New York City when he killed eight people in cold blood. The serial killer was known as the .44 caliber killer. This nocturnal notoriety emanated from his dedicated use of a bulldog revolver that had New Yorkers going to bed frightened for their lives. While he eluded New York City cops in the biggest manhunt in the city’s history, he would leave letters mocking their efforts. His letters would promise more murders as he tormented and taunted the NYPD. In late 1977 he was apprehended outside his apartment in Yonkers and eventually h was convicted of eight separate attacks and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. Most people would agree that the punishment was commensurate with the crime and all guilty parties should be punished in proportion to their nefarious behavior. Incongruent to this proposition, SSA does not sanction its management operatives in proportion to their misconduct. Can you imagine the Son of Sam’s punishment for killing eight New Yorkers was to live in New Jersey for the rest of his life?

              SSA has a policy of zero tolerance for employees that do not treat others such as the American public, co-workers, and especially management operatives with courtesy, respect, and professionalism. When employees go astray from these expectations and act unruly, disrespectful or in some cases belligerently and argumentatively, SSA is swift and uncompromising with its disciplinary action. Multiple acts of misconduct can ultimately lead to separation from federal service. While this may sound appropriate, it is not practiced equitably throughout the agency. The agency has a propensity for looking the other way when the offending employee is a management operative. Management operatives are ostensibly immune to the same sanctions that are designed to keep bargaining unit employees (BUE) in line; or at the very least have acquired strong resistance to the adherence of normal standards of conduct. Having competing standards of conduct for BUE and management operatives is not a surprise to any SSA BUE journeyman. An example of this would be management’s expectation of employees to verbally inform management of any requests for leave after already submitting their requests electronically. Conversely, management operatives will assign BUE interviews electronically and leave the onus on the employee to find the assigned interview—in other words redundancy is OK when it minimizes work for management operatives. BUE would greatly benefit from any indication that an interview was assigned to them but management operatives insist that the BUE remain on the prowl for rogue interview assignments.   

              While bargaining unit employees can be disciplined solely on the allegation of a member of the public that the employee was disrespectful or discourteous, the same accusation towards a management operative normally requires overwhelming evidence that is often scarcely available. Even when there may be witnesses to the managerial infraction, often witnesses are afraid to come forward and speak up because they are afraid of retribution from management. BUE have no confidence in management acting fairly toward them; so as a matter of self-preservation potential witnesses almost never come forward and provide inculpatory evidence. This gives a management operative that is a repeat offender free rein to continue abusing their staff.

              In essence what this all means is that BUE are guilty until proven innocent and management operatives are innocent until proven guilty. When a disciplinary action is proposed to a BUE, it is usually appealed. However, this does not automatically suspend any proposed disciplinary action. Instead, the employee enters a pre-litigation response that is normally dismissed irrespective of any prevailing merits. This is because the agency has no incentive to act fairly at any time during the process. In fact, because there are no consequences to the agency’s actions, acting discordant to the contract yields benefits to the agency because it forces the union to exhaust limited resources defending employees against the agency’s repetitive breeches in duty in the absence of precedent setting arbitrations. Because of limited Union resources, only a small number of cases actually go to arbitration—leaving the agency as the final arbiter in the vast majority of grievances. 

              Conversely, when a management operative acts upon a BUE in violation of the contract, no matter how obvious or consistent the violation may be, the employee/union must always file a grievance as if ambiguity was the major issue in interpreting the contract. In a school playground the agency would be accused of playing dumb. In federal service this is nothing less than perfidy dissonant to the agency’s obligation to its BUE. The reality is that management operatives are egregious repeat offenders. Because the agency does not share disciplinary records with the Union, there is no such thing as progressive discipline for management operatives. This means that unless it’s happening in the same office to the same employees in a short span of time, abuse at the hands of management operatives is always novel in execution.

              On occasion a management operative is overtly consistent with their pernicious conduct and multiple complaints from employees make it impossible for the agency to ignore. The agency will pursue the optics of taking bold action that usually results in nothing more than moving the management operative to another office. This almost never results in a demotion or termination of a management operative. It rarely ever results in a suspension or reprimand. More common is the management operative’s continuation of misconduct and tormenting a new set of employees in a new office. So in other words, there really is no attempt to rehabilitate the management operative. Because of the lack of transparency of the agency, it is never evident that the agency has acknowledged any bad behavior at all. It is reasonable to conclude that the only reason the agency moved the management operative was to assuage the employees that complained with no intent to actually curtail the misconduct.

              Often the employees become conditioned to accept misconduct from management operatives, it creates an environment of disaffection that profoundly affects the BUE and often leads to either contemplating leaving the job or seeking emotional and mental counseling. Those that stay with the agency endure as much as they can until they reach their breaking point and eventually file a grievance or harassment complaint against the management operative. This is where the real stress begins because they learn quickly that the agency does not have their welfare prioritized. Employees learn that management operatives act with impunity and no consequences. It is only on the rare occasion that multiple employees unite to file charges against the management operative that the agency takes any action.

              When it comes to disciplining management operatives, the agency takes a cloak and dagger approach in order to cover up its dispensations for aberrant management behavior. This opaque convention for disciplining management operatives allows the agency to restore or promote offenders surreptitiously and expediently. Because the agency is the jury, judge, and the rarely ever utilized metaphorical executioner (when it comes to management operatives), it has full control over the process of disciplining their own. This would be the equivalence of John Dillinger presiding as judge over his own trial after robbing a bank. This self-serving position taken by the agency is indicative of how it values its own management operatives and tacitly repudiates BUEs. The agency takes a harder position on employees because when BUEs fail, the supposition is that they have failed the American people.

              Conversely, when management operatives fail in their duty to support the BUE, they only fail the employees of whom the agency makes a clear distinction and values less than the American public; failing to acknowledge that we are all members of the American public. This denigration of the BUE is inherently understood and creates an implicit resentment that translates to inevitable suspicion of management and an inability for the BUE to achieve maximum proficiency in federal service.

              What empowers this double standard between management operatives and the BUE is one of the most valued characteristics in management operatives: the abandonment of the analytical and critical thinking that made them good civil servants. From the onset as a member of the bargaining unit you learn that independent thinking is a necessity to succeed as an SSA employee; serving the American public with efficiency and effectiveness. However, independent thinking no matter how well it serves the BUE is tacitly frowned upon by the agency. Some BUEs quickly adapt and develop an obsequies relationship with management operatives that prepares them for promotion far more effectively than any accumulation of knowledge. While the agency does not outwardly seek management operatives that consciously suppress their cognitive acumen, anecdotal evidence would strongly suggest that the agency has a predilection for management operatives that are sycophantic in nature and views the application of reason as an impediment from the true duties of a management operative. This allows the management operative to blindly follow instructions from superiors without questioning the efficacy or ethics of the directives. This means that the very attributes that made you an exemplary BUE makes you a poor candidate to be a management operative.


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