Presidents Message: NFFE 1998 President Advocates to Director General for Workplace Flexibilities and Modern Computer Systems
Happy October to one and all, hopefully 2022 has treated us better than in 2020 or 2021. I cannot believe we have entered the last quarter of the year. It does not seem possible that 2023 is close at hand.
On August 11, 2022, I was able to have a virtual meeting with Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent. I had a very productive conversation with her. Below you will find the main topics I discussed with Ms. Bernicat.
- Work systems that allow us to perform our jobs in an agile and adaptive fashion, which would include remote work and telework.
- Expanded workplace flexibilities and employee development to provide a larger range of career opportunities.
Of course, I am not holding my breath, but I feel good for all of us every time I get to present some of our concerns to folks outside of Consular Affairs. I always feel it is a small win. One of the last topics I discussed is reminding DG Bernicat that, if not for the Civil Service folks issuing passports domestically there would be less need for Foreign Service Officers and Embassy’s.
A topic that seems to pop up as an issue every few years is the topic of timely promotions. My advice is the same as it always is; please take some time to review the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The section you will want to look through is Article 15 of the CBA. The issue of promotions is spelled out very well in this section of the CBA. If you are fully successful in every category, you should be promoted without delay. Perhaps you struggled at the beginning of the year; regardless, if you are showing the ability to perform at the next grade level, you should be promoted without delay. As someone who has worked in passports over the last 15 years, my advice is do not take no for an answer and do not let time lapse in any capacity.
Please take a few minutes to review grievance filing deadlines in Article 20, Section 7 (a) (page 64) in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which can be downloaded from our website at NFFE1998.org. It is important that everyone knows the deadlines regarding filing a grievance. If the deadline is missed there is almost nothing we can do for folks.
Sometimes management and the Union disagree on what the date of occurrence is. One way to try to prevent untimely complaints is to send an email to verify what date management is counting as the date of occurrence. Then after verifying what date management is using, request a deadline extension because of an ongoing investigation of the facts of the case. This will make it clear to both parties when the grievance filing deadline is and may gain us more time for filing. So please take a few minutes to review your rights in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Finally, please be aware that nominations for elections will be coming to members’ mailboxes very soon. Please be on the lookout for those nomination forms. And if you want to view some of the job descriptions for the positions that are eligible for election, we have started posting those to the website.
I hope you have a great month and please take some time for yourself in the coming weeks.
Be On the Look Out for Payroll Errors with Cash Awards
Unfortunately, the Union was given notice that some cash award recipients employees were overpaid due to an Agency error, and the Agency is working to correct this error. The Union is investigating the issue and is fighting to minimize any negative impacts on employees.
The Union is requesting that all employees be given advance notice before the cash award overpayment is deducted from a future paycheck, so that people can plan accordingly. If you are served a debt collections letter, you have the right to appeal it, and/or maybe even request a payment plan. The Union will follow up by email when more information is provided by the Agency.
New Position Descriptions and New Performance Appraisals
Passport Headquarters is updating the position descriptions of GS-5, 7, 9, and 11 Passport Specialists. We highly recommend everyone request a copy of the proposed changes from their local steward and review Management’s proposed updated Position Descriptions
Secondly, the Union has invoked bargaining and submitted counter proposals to Management regarding the Agency’s proposed changes and modifications of a new performance appraisal system impacting your rights. The Management agreed in the Parties Master Agreement (aka Collective Bargaining Agreement) Article 18 Provision 2 to provide you with a “fair and reasonable appraisal system”.
The Union has represented you by submitting counter proposals requesting negotiations on matters such as: 1) training time prior to acceptance of your new evaluation; 2) the opportunity to develop your Performance Goals/Competency with the rating official before your evaluation begins; 3) to introduce a Marginal Rating at each Performance Goal and Competency before a determination is made for a Not Successful Rating. A Marginal Rating would not be subject to a formal PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) while Not Successful Ratings are; 4) to request information from your rating official on how to achieve an Exceeds and/or Outstanding rating.
These matters noted above are only a slice of what the Union has counter proposed to the Management. The Union is working to preserve our rights to a “fair and reasonable appraisal system”. Negotiations have been requested to meet with the Management after the Union’s counter proposals were submitted, but no date has been finalized at this time.
You Are Your Own Best Advocate
NFFE 1998 is here to support our workplace rights. However, we cannot do that without your support. Ultimately, you are your own best advocate. Take time to get to know our contract between Bargaining Unit Employees (us, aka BUE) and the Employer (U.S. Department of State), the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which can be downloaded in PDF form from our website NFFE1998.org. It is the responsibility of every Bargaining Unit Employee to hold our employer, the U.S. Department of State accountable. Please submit complaints to us via our online complaint form.
DOS Retention Unit
The Secretary of State announced his commitment to retaining talent within the DOS and has created a Retention Unit within the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM). The Retention Unit is on a mission to understand and improve our employee experiences. It is developing a comprehensive retention strategy, which is a key component of the Secretary’s Modernization Agenda.
The Retention Unit is committed to transparency, and to providing greater visibility and context to attrition information. Our voices and ideas matter. There is an email inbox we are welcome to send ideas, issues, and inquiries to. We can email them at GTMRetentionUnit@state.gov.
We can also continue to submit ideas for how we can improve our workforce policies and practices to the GTM Innovation Portal. If you are interested in volunteering your employee experience in a focus group or want to provide targeted feedback you can add your name to the volunteer list here.
The Retention Unit will be launching an Employee Experience “Stay” Survey and has revamped Exit Interviews. The Exit Interview is voluntary. It is strongly recommended that every employee takes it so that the Retention Unit can better understand the employee experience. If you are leaving the Department in the next 6 months, you may schedule a 30 minute, confidential interview here in addition to completing the exit survey.
NFFE 1998 Encourages Veterans to Take Advantage of the IAM Veterans Services Program to Receive Earned VA Benefits
The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) is encouraging all union members who are veterans to take advantage of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Veterans Services Program. The program, which helps military veterans obtain earned benefits after their time in service, has been highly successful since Richard Evans was appointed as Coordinator earlier this year.
The program assists veterans in understanding and applying for earned benefits and helps with submitting claims. Applying for benefits can be very confusing and difficult. The program helps veterans and their families have access to the multitude of benefits offered to former servicemen and women. This includes securing earned backpay, improving disability status if necessary, resolving potential errors in previously submitted claims, among other benefits.
Not only does the Veteran’s Services Program help veterans correctly apply for VA benefits and compensation, but it also offers aid in education, employment, home loans, life insurance, pension, health care, and burial benefits. The mission of the IAM Veterans Services Program is to make sure veteran members and their families are taken care of and supported.
To find out more about IAM’s Veteran’s Services, visit this website (This service is for union dues paying members only). To submit your information and have a representative of the IAM Veterans Services Program contact you, visit this website. To become a dues paying member, please fill out the online form here, and notify your local representative after submission.
In the News
Federal Employee 2023 Health Premiums Increase 8.7%
In just a few weeks, the Federal Benefits Open Season for the 2023 plan year for health insurance under the FEHB Program, dental and vision insurance under FEDVIP, and flexible spending accounts under FSAFEDS, will be held from November 14 through December 12. Check out this article for more information on the rates increasing.
FEHB Rates and Changes:
- The rate increase for enrollees in 2023 will be 7% on average
- On average, those enrolled in “self-only” plans will pay an additional $8.11 per bi-weekly pay period
- On average, those enrolled in “self plus one” insurance plans will pay $20.34 more per pay period
- On average, those enrolled in family coverage will pay an average of $20.87 more per pay period in 2023
FEHB Plan Choices:
- There are 271 plan choices in 2023
- 18 Fee-for-Service (FFS) plan choices available (excluding HDHPs and CDHPs)
- 14 nation-wide FFS plan choices open to all
- 4 FFS plans with availability limited to certain groups (Compass Rose, Foreign Service Benefit Plan, Rural Carriers Benefit Plan, and Panama Canal Area Benefit Plan) (same as last year)
- 188 HMO plan choices (excluding HDHPs and CDHPs)
- 37 High Deductible Health Plan choices (HDHP), 2 of which are nation-wide
- 28 Consumer Driven Health Plan choices (CDHP), 2 of which are nation-wide
New Benefit Offerings:
- For the 2023 Plan Year, OPM is pleased to deliver enhanced benefit offerings in the following areas across the FEHB Program: Maternal Health, Gender Affirming Care and Services, Obesity, COVID-19, Telehealth, Medical Foods, Assisted Reproductive Technology, and Preventive Services.
For more information please see OPM’s Federal Benefits Open Season Fact Sheet. NFFE will provide updates and more information as we approach the start of Benefits Open Season.
Federal Employees Receive 2023 Pay increase of 4.6%
Check out this article for more on the 2023 Federal Pay Increase.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Update for Federal Employees
The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on federal Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently announced a temporary, but significant waiver to PSLF program rules. The waiver, called the “Limited PSLF Waiver,” allows those borrowers who had ineligible loans or payments to get credit for those past periods. The waiver is available to borrowers until October 31, 2022. You can learn more about the waiver and if it applies to you here.
- Read A Letter from President Biden on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.
- On Oct. 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced a change to the PSLF program rules for a limited time as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.
- Now, for a limited time, borrowers may receive credit for past periods of repayment that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF.
- This change will apply to borrowers with Direct Loans, those who have already consolidated into the Direct Loan Program, and those who consolidate into the Direct Loan Program by Oct. 31, 2022.
- If you previously applied for PSLF and were denied because of your loan type, you are encouraged to reapply.
Majority of minor league baseball players turn in union authorization cards, paving way for MLBPA membership
Minor league players are seeking to join the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). They are ready to begin collective bargaining and be recognized by the league. In the past, MLBPA only represented major leagues teams’. With the addition of minor league teams, MLBPA may quadruple in size. Pay is one of the top issues. Most minor league players receive $400 and $700 a week and are only paid in season. A federal class-action lawsuit was filed by minor league players, alleging minimum wage and overtime violations by teams. MLB settled in July 2022.
Article 20 Section 7 (a)
(a). Filing Deadline: The grievant and/or representative must file the Step 1 Grievance with the appropriate official in writing within forty-five (45) calendar days of the incident resulting in the complaint or the date the grievant first became aware of the matter. The appropriate official may extend the time limit or good cause.
Article 20 Section 7 (b)
(b). It is important to include in the Step 1 Grievance:
- The incident resulting in the complaint or the issue(s) being grieved;
- The date of the occurrence or a statement that the occurrence is ongoing;
iii. Any supporting evidence;
- Suggestions or requests for remedies/relief; and
- Indication that this is a “Step 1 Grievance.”