Passport Services NFFE Local 1998
Florence Fultz Donna Ward
Susan Moorse John Paolino
Union: Strongly believes in the benefits of using Upward Mobility to help qualified employees advance their careers. There have been many new hires of Passport Specialists in the last few years, but little to no use of Upward Mobility. Believes many of the current Processing employees, Contact Representatives, and other bargaining unit non-adjudication employees would make great Passport Specialists. Many current non-adjudication employees are concerned they would have to take a downgrade in pay if they became Passport Specialists through Merit Promotion, and also concerned about job security if they are not successful in that position. Would like to see Management offer at least half of the future Specialist positions over the next two years through Upward Mobility for Passport Services employees only, perhaps with the right of return to previous position if not succeeding in adjudication. Current employees who have unsuccessfully applied for positions in adjudication have not been informed why they were not selected. Also, many employees have been told by their local Management that upper Management in DC would not allow them to advertise Passport Specialist vacancies through Upward Mobility. Many employees who were not interested or not as qualified in the past in applying for Passport Specialist positions are now interested, and many have more experience, education, and training now than they did when previous openings were advertised. It was the Union’s understanding that Department policy in 1995 was that everyone that was qualified and desired to move into Specialist position would be given the opportunity to move.
Management: Does not believe this is a big enough problem to deal with on a national basis. Made great use of Upward Mobility starting in approximately 1995, including recently at PPT/NY, and have moved a great number of employees to adjudication through that program as well as others. Do not believe that we have failed to provide opportunities through Upward Mobility. Everyone was given the opportunity to apply for the positions. Have made many efforts to target training to help employees move to adjudication, including written/oral communications and customer service training. Employees who are interested in Passport Specialist positions should watch OPM and Merit Promotion announcements. If they are not selected, then they should meet with their supervisors or talk with Personnel Specialists at CA/EX/HRD to identify what they can do to make themselves stronger candidates. There are no plans to use Upward Mobility on a widespread basis in the near future, though that may change (e.g., if another megacenter opens). There are great costs involved in advertising positions through Upward Mobility concurrent with Merit Promotion, including a great deal of administrative work and more interviews, and delays in the hiring decision. Cannot limit Upward Mobility announcements to Passport Services only – it has to be Department-wide. Precluded by law from being required to always use Upward Mobility before Merit Promotion. Per CA/EX/HRD (Personnel), it is the Regional/Office Director’s decision on how an announcement is advertised. The decision is not made by Personnel, which is an excuse used in the past.
Union: Because there was not enough Specialist positions at the time of the announcements for qualified individuals to move into, does not feel that everyone that was qualified and wished to move was given the opportunity. Does not feel that giving everyone the opportunity to apply for a position is the same as giving everyone the opportunity to move into a position.
Action: HQ Management to inform regional offices that Upward Mobility is still a tool that remains available to them when attempting to fill Passport Specialist positions, that there is no prohibition from HQ Management on using that tool, and that there are current employees who are interested in applying through that program. Employees who are interested in the Passport Specialist position should talk to their supervisors, their Adjudication Manager, or Personnel Specialists to get help on their development and training in order to improve their qualifications for that position.
Union: Does not believe we were properly notified in advance of Management’s plan to eliminate Flexiplace, as our only official notification was through being “cc’d” on a memo to Management officials (though Alex Allen did receive an informal courtesy call). There have been no problems with the Flexiplace Program, in the context of security considerations. Problems in regards to the security of the personal information on the passport application, credit card information, and passport fees have all occurred outside of the Flexiplace program by Passport Services’ managers and employees, contract workers, acceptance agents, and courier and delivery companies. Eliminating the Flexiplace Program may create a false sense of security without having any real improvement (e.g., there was an employee who was not involved in the Flexiplace program who took applications home). Questions timing of the notification as there is an ongoing Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge that the PPT/NO Union VP filed charging Management there with failing to negotiate in good faith on the Flexiplace program. The question was brought forth in regards to the “security” of the passport applications from Mellon to the passport offices. Using this example, the employees of the US Department of State shouldn’t be the office’s greatest concern.
Management: “Two wrongs don’t make a right” – there are other areas of concern and we are looking at enhancing the security of the passport application process across the board, but a security deficiency in one area that has not yet been overcome does not justify us ignoring a security deficiency in an area that we can fix. One of the main problems with Flexiplace is that it potentially exposes the information on the passport application to people who do not work for Passport Services. A completely trustworthy employee is still responsible for the applications even if houseguests or relatives of the employee take information or the applications themselves. We are concerned about the growing trend of identity theft, and want to decrease the chance that our applicants will be the victims of this crime when they apply for passports. There are new OPM rules in effect on telecommuting, and we wouldn’t have instituted Flexiplace if they had been in place when this was first started. The elimination of Flexiplace had nothing to do with the ULP in PPT/NO.
Union: Questions whether Management can eliminate Flexiplace, due to the restrictions found in Article 12, Section 4 of the contract. Management insisted on this “zipper clause” during contract negotiations to prohibit any issue that was negotiated at the table from being reopened during the life of the contract unless by mutual agreement. Management is attempting to reopen Article 26 and the issue of Flexiplace, even though it was already included in the contract and thus should not be open to negotiation without the consent of the Union – and the Union has not consented. Considering the amount of time that was spent negotiating the contract and the expertise of the Management negotiators and lawyers, the Union has a difficult time accepting that this “slipped through the cracks”.
Action: Union to request extension past December 13th deadline and decide whether to either file a grievance or request negotiations as appropriate on Management’s plan. Bargaining unit employees who have concerns or opinions on this subject should communicate them to the Union, including proposals for alternate arrangements to supplant the elimination of this scheduling option.
Management: Goals: The project to establish uniform nationwide Performance Standards and Elements stemmed from the contract negotiations and our concern over the lack of clarity in what employees were expected to do in order to be promoted. The project is delayed (possibly until March), but would rather have it done right than on time. The plan is to communicate through local Management to the local Council, which represent the employees. The numerical quotas are the last thing that will be focused on. From GS-9 to GS-11, the substance of the work is the difference between the two positions – not the numbers. Will ensure that whatever numbers are presented to the Union will be transparent: methods for arriving at that number need to be clear, and how they will be applied needs to be clear. The final number is the average the employee is expected to reach for the year. This number is based upon the employee’s hourly production over the course of the evaluation period.
Union: Concerns: Not all offices are being involved in this project. At least one office did not share one of the drafts with the Council or the employees and the Union had to forward the draft to that office. Feel that if Union had been involved as a true partner, that this would be done by now instead of delayed. The Union wholeheartedly supports many of the improvements that have been made in the technology that we use, including: MIV, PFM, PRISM, Namecheck before Bookprint, and incorporating the SSA chart. However, while these improvements in technology have helped immensely with the quality of our work, they make the work take longer, and there has been no corresponding decrease in performance standards. Concerned that employees are rushing to meet their quotas, which employees often believe is all Management cares about, and that errors and even fraudulent applications are being issued as a result. Concerned that shortcuts are being taken, including not checking the information on the application carefully (e.g., mailing address), and most importantly names are not being recleared properly and consistently by most Passport Specialists, often with the knowledge and approval of local Management.
Management: Methodology: Using a variety of ways to test the numbers to make sure they are fair. Starting point was to take the numbers achieved by Passport Specialists assigned to adjudicate at their desks from every Passport Agency from August 19 – September 3 of this year and then average them for each grade. The reason for not advertising this earlier was so that employees would not know they were being counted, as Management felt that would alter the result.
Union: Problems with Methodology: Believes this is flawed for a number of reasons. First of all, many employees report they are using shortcuts to meet their quotas, and therefore basing a future standard on current practices would lock the need for those shortcuts in to the future standard. In addition to the shortcuts above, employees report working through their breaks, shortening their lunches, and starting early/leaving late to make their quota. Employees also report that they except out complex cases for review later and put off reading work-related emails and memos, including policies and procedures, until a later time when they are not performing desk adjudication. A second flaw in Management’s methodology is that most employees try to meet the quota or to exceed it, so by measuring what employees are actually performing and then averaging it, this method would add fully successful to excellent to outstanding numbers, and the average that would result would be the current excellent level. In other words, the number quota would actually be raised by making the current excellent level the new fully successful level. Union suggests supplementing the information that Management receives from this study with a trial one-week period in a handful of offices where a handful of employees would adjudicate at their desks for a week “the right way”. There would be no excepting out of difficult cases, no waiting until later to read policy emails, and all addresses would be check, all names would be properly cleared.
Management: Response: Prefers to have Union compile list of problems with the current system and shortcuts that would affect the study it has already done.
Management: Some Specifics: All production numbers will be in one element, and the number standards will include applications that are excepted out (suspended, referred to the FPM office, or those that hit a hold).
Management: Communication: Displeased that employee from PPT/SE went outside the chain of command and transmitted concerns about problems with Namecheck through Personnel Specialist from CA/EX/HRD (Namecheck only clears the first of multiple surnames data entered on one line in the “other name” field, necessitating that specialists spend time re-entering and reclearing the other surnames). Also received a Congressional inquiry on this subject.
Union: Kudos: The employee in question did go through the chain of command and Managers and employees in every office were already aware of the problem. The employee should be praised for getting the information through to the people who needed to know when many others had not succeeded.
Future: Management will keep the Union informed as work continues.
Summary: Management originally felt that the email sent 11-27-2002 by Union President Alex Allen titled “TDIS Reports” regarding possible undercounting of Passport Specialist’s production totals was inappropriate. Management thought it should have been marked as representational. Union agreed. The Parties agreed that the understanding on email reached at the 9-25-2001 Union/Management Council Meeting was controlling, and that emails on internal Union business need to be marked as such and emails on representational issues need to be so marked as well. Representational emails that take less than 5 minutes to read can be read on work time or personal time, but an employee who wants to read representational emails on work time that take longer than that duration should check with his/her supervisor first.
Action: Union and Management to reiterate language from 9-25-2001 Meeting Minutes (see below):
Union: Wants to clarify policy on use of email for internal Union business. Believes that it is acceptable – if written and read on personal, non-work time. The contract allows for Union membership drives twice a year, and we discussed the use of email for that purpose with Management during the contract negotiations. Would like to email the entire bargaining unit at that time.
Management: Worries that internal Union business that may be written on personal time is being read during work time. Agrees that email may be used for internal Union business if written and read on personal time. Feels that use of email for solicitation during membership drive twice a year is fine (has to be on personal time). Wants to continue use of email as it has been used, will address any future individual problems as they come up.
Action: Union will put “header” at top of all internal Union business emails stating that the email was written on personal time and must be read on personal time. For representational emails, Union and Management agree to apply 5-minute phone call standard from the contract (Article 8, Section 3) to emails: “Calls (read “emails”) made or received during work hours will be on official time. Those calls (read “emails”) over 5 minutes shall be arranged in accordance with Article 7, Section 6 and shall be recorded as such.”
Management: PPT/BN Management wanted to help ATF by using the Boston Passport Agency to help train a bomb-sniffing dog named Herbie. The RD emailed the staff about the plan, and told the employees that if they had concerns to let him know. Management believed that the Union should not have handled this at the President-level but should have let the local Vice President deal with the RD on this issue. Believes that Herbie was strictly a local issue.
Union: Desires that things be handled locally. Local VP should have been notified first. When the policy was announced in that manner, the message is that the decision has been made and that the plan is a “done deal”. Employees receiving this notification from the RD may not feel comfortable questioning the plan to Management, which is why the Union should be notified first, so that the Union can survey the employees for their reaction and can represent their views to Management. Agrees that Herbie the dog should be a local issue. However, the pattern of failing to notify the Union in advance of a change in working conditions is a national issue. That is the distinction we are making here.
Management: Agrees that RD should have let VP know about change prior to announcing the policy. Wants to give local relationships a chance to build trust and work together, and if local issues are referred to the national level then that trust won’t be built.
Union: Would like to clarify that national Union officers are not prohibited from being members of local office council meetings.
Management: Sees no problem with that.
Action: see “Timely Notification” below.
Management: Acknowledges that the Union should receive advance notice of changes in working conditions. Concerned that involving the Union earlier will slow projects or obstruct them. Agrees that it is a good idea to run ideas by employees first prior to implementation. With Green Instructions, the normal process is to have three Passport Agencies review them first before they are finalized. This is something that the local Councils can work on. If employees see a better way to do things, or have a suggestion or criticism of a policy/procedure being proposed or already in place, then they can submit those ideas through their councils. Concerned that some Councils are not representing the views of non-Union members.
Union: Some of our Councils have anonymous suggestion boxes, and we will share that idea with the other Union representatives. Feels that the Union does make a responsible effort to solicit input from non-members. Rather than getting in the way of a project getting completed, the Union feels that if it is involved earlier it can help identify problems or propose solutions before it is “too late”.
Action: Management agrees to include in these meeting minutes a reminder that Managers and Supervisors must comply with the requirement to give advance notification of changes in working conditions. Regional Management reminded to work with their local councils. Regional Union representatives reminded to listen to all viewpoints, including non-Union members. Management agrees to cc Union President on drafts of proposed changes in Green Instructions and other initiatives that impact on working conditions.
Management: Regional Directors reported some problems in requests to obtain official time. Some Union representatives requested official time, but did not want to provide the reason for the request.
Union: Our Union representatives report the opposite experience, including recent experiences by one of the attendees at this meeting, where they have given reasons for obtaining official time but have been interrogated for the reasons, and referred on from the Supervisor to the Adjudication Manager to the Assistant Regional Director. Many of our Union representatives have been doing representational work on breaks or lunch, or staying late or working on issues at home. Some representatives report that there is a stigma attached to using official time, and some representatives have attempted to meet their Union responsibilities without requesting or recording official time. Some have also reported that they have still had trouble obtaining official time to use to study the contract, and that without the Union representatives being able to learn about its contents, then they will not be able to adequately fulfill their roles. One result is that Management’s desire to have local issues handled locally is thwarted since the problem has to be referred by an inexperienced local officer to the Union President. Another problem has occurred when some Management officials have misinterpreted the 2 hour block of time to restrict any use of official time to 2 hours, which is not the case.
Management: Agrees that Union representatives are entitled to official time if it is justified. If your Union representatives make the proper requests but continue to experience problems in obtaining official time, then you should let HQ Management know, and you may also file a grievance on the denial of official time. Union representatives should request and record official time since that will benefit the representative on his/her evaluation (i.e., official time will be subtracted from the time the employee was expected to produce) and will also benefit Management (i.e., official time for the office will be subtracted from the total work hours reported for the office to HQ). Not reporting official time lowers the employee’s and Management’s productivity reports.
Action: Management to re-emphasize to all levels of Management that the goal is to have the immediate supervisors handle the request for official time. Parties agree to reiterate the 9/25/01 Meeting Minutes on this subject (see below). Union to remind its representatives of the need to request official time and to document it. Union representatives to proceed as outlined in the contract and request official time as needed with a brief explanation (e.g., “I need to use 3 hours of official time to research and prepare a grievance on a promotion” – with the employee in question not named). If the request is denied, the local representative will attempt to quickly and informally resolve the problem. If that effort is not successful, then the local representative should communicate this problem to Union President Alex Allen, who will then in turn contact HQ Management. If local Management is not abiding by the contract on official time, the Union will file a grievance.
Union: Intent of this new addition to the contract was for Union representatives to have a block of time every week to study the contract/laws/regulations/training materials, to do research or preparations for a grievance, and to be available for employee questions at a set time every week. Rumors have been circulating that there is a memo from Management that states that Union representatives cannot use the two-hour block for these purposes. The Union feels that if ignorance of the contract and the regulations is not an excuse on the part of a Union rep, then there is nothing more representational than becoming familiar with the rules under which we operate. Without this knowledge, the representative cannot responsibly perform his/her duties. Another problem is that some Union representatives have been told that they must complete a leave slip before official time will be approved, which is not a requirement found in the contract. Additionally, some Union representatives have been told by their supervisors that they have to request the use of official time from the Adjudication Manager or even the Assistant Regional Director, and have been “grilled” on the reasons for the request.
Management: Management not aware of rumored memo. Two hours in a block per week can be requested and approved, but needs to be justified in advance to give management sufficient details on planned activities. Time to study the contract is okay within limits, but not on an ongoing basis. When justified, more than two hours official time per week total is allowed. Leave slip not required in advance to obtain official time, but procedures set forth in contract (Article 7) should be adhered to.
Conclusion: Official time requested, including a two-hour block, has to be used for representational purposes. The two hour block may be regularly scheduled for the same time every week to make scheduling easier for the officer and the supervisor, but it is not a requirement. Two hour blocks may be scheduled on a regular or semi-regular basis, so long as the request is approved in advance. There is no requirement for a union rep to request official time in writing or fill out a leave slip, but the union representative must document the use of official time in some way that is mutually agreeable. There is no "official time charge form" at this time.
Personnel: CA/EX/HRD wanted to make it clear that it does not make decisions contrary to the Agency’s wishes, and that its primary function is to take care of the employees.
Open Net Plus: Still being worked on. This will allow some access at the desktop to the Internet. Union will be notified prior to implementation.
Awards: Management provided the Union with the list of award recipients for FY 2002, including the amounts. However, the list was incomplete, and subsequent communications clarified some of the omissions. The Union still needs to be provided the complete list (with the amounts). The list – without the amounts – will be posted on the Intranet.