Happy Spring to Everyone!
I hope the weather in your location is starting to loosen its grip on the cold and warmer weather is starting to shine its face on everyone.
Even though we are already three months into the new year I was struggling on where to start this newsletter message. So, I guess I will just dive in and talk about issues in general and hopefully provide a road map for everyone.
Life in Passport Services has been what seems like one big shock after another over the last three to four months. Starting with ongoing systems issues, continuing OPR problems, along with the introduction of new evaluation forms and productions standards, and the continuation of more overtime hours. Even though these are many of the larger issues that impact us every day, we can’t forget about other issues such as not being able to use Bluetooth, health care costs, the introduction of laptops into the workplace, telework, and the list goes on and on.
It is no wonder we feel tired and frustrated this early in the year. Which leads me to a couple of reminders regarding all our frustrations and angst. First, please remember you have people you can turn to for assistance. If you feel that help is needed, please don’t hesitate to contact your local steward. If there is no steward in your office, then please feel free to reach out to the National Officers. Sometimes just having a discussion may be the answer to getting past our frustration and fears. Additionally, don’t forget that the Collective Bargaining Agreement is a tool to help each of us deal with possible problems. It is one of the road maps to dealing with many issues. It can be a great tool for reminding our supervisors on how we should be treated and a reminder of what actions we as employees can take when we are not sure what we should do.
The Department also has a slew of resources available to assist employees. Please reach out to your management staff for information about them, such as the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of Special Counsel, anti-bullying resources, support groups, work-life balance, the Career Development and Resource Center, Employee Consultation Services, etc.
Something I must remind myself regularly is that the workplace should be a place we all want to be a part of most days. Unfortunately, many days it may feel like we are just a cog in the wheel of production; to some extent that is true. But if we are not treated with respect and made to feel valuable then that trip to the office becomes harder every day, even if you enjoy working overtime to help your household. With these frustrations in mind please remember that when you are told that something you did is wrong you have every right to know why and what information it is based on. Never ever hesitate to request to be shown in writing the rules and regulations. It is the fair thing, and I would suspect if the shoe was on the other foot our supervisors would be requesting the same information from us. Questioning issues when it is unclear helps all of us to be better employees.
As I mentioned at the top of this note there are lots of issues being thrown at us as employees. The Union is actively engaged in advocating for the preservation of our rights. Many of the topics I mentioned above are either in bargaining or have had grievances filed. Unfortunately, the wheels of progress move slowly. We are working on it, but many of the issues have not been resolved. One our main goals for 2023 is to make sure we are keeping everyone in the loop about ongoing issues; please continue to follow up and ask about the status of the items that concern you most.
Finally, I want everyone to know that I have personally spoken with multiple management officials regarding our wellbeing and keep reminding them that our needs as employees need to remain a priority, so we all survive the 2023 workload. At this point I want to remind everyone you have no control over the systems. However, it is your responsibility to let someone know they are not working. This is really important because if the problem is affecting everyone, but only a few people report it, everyone risks not getting the proper MIS system down time or being unmeasurable for the day. If OPR is not working, it is not your fault. Make sure someone is aware of the issues. Just do what you can do each day. Try not to worry about the things that are out of your control. Take your breaks, lunches, vacations, and make sure you get help if you need help. Doing this is how we will all survive 2023.
Lastly, I want to say we should expect reasonable answers from those in charge, reasonable expectations placed on us, and respect. At the minimum, we deserve treatment to include these things, and if we don’t, we may have to make difficult decisions about our future in passports.
Have a great spring, please take care of yourself, and remember do only what you can do in a day.
Lee T. Wentz
President, NFFE1998 IAMAW AFL-CIO
Congratulations to NFFE 1998’s Newly Elected Representatives!
Please join us in congratulating the new line up of NFFE 1998 Officers and Stewards. It was a close race in many positions, and we really appreciate having so many skilled members dedicated to improving the workplace. Members may log in to the website and view the vote counts at https://nffe1998.org/elections-2022/ .
NFFE 1998 is led by President Lee Wentz, and Vice President Boyd Hinton. We are very fortunate to have these two powerhouses continue to serve for another 3 year term.
President- Our President Lee leads from a place of listening to many perspectives, and repeatedly asks headquarters, “when are you going to do what’s best for our employees?” His exceptional professionalism was rewarded with the 2022 Passport Services award for Excellence in Professionalism.
Vice President- Boyd is our expert in arbitration, unfair labor practices, grievances, and labor law. Without his expertise our Union would struggle to be effective in holding the employer accountable. Often our attempts at working with the Department of State to improve working conditions including FAM guidance, auditing procedures, are thwarted because DOS claims that certain topics cannot be discussed because they are covered by law as managements rights to determine without union interference. Additionally, it is common for the agency to respond to grievances with a claim that the agency did no wrong. If we chose to accept the agencies decisions, many employee complaints would go ignored and unresolved. Boyd assists union stewards in learning how to effectively challenge the decisions made by management to bring about positive change in passports.
Secretary-Treasurer- Bri is our newly elected Secretary Treasurer. She had been serving as a steward at NPC for 1 year. Bri has been a valuable resource for us with her participation in other working groups like Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) committee and the professional development committee. She is excited to actively support our members through well managed financials and advocate for all of us in passports.
Recording Secretary- Jonah is our newly elected Recording Secretary, who was serving previously as senior steward at CPC. Jonah looks forward to enforcing the rights of employees as afforded by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), holding management accountable, and assisting stewards in local negotiations.
The following elected positions do not come with any weekly official time. Because of this we want to recognize the exceptional commitment of the following individuals and thank them for their loyalty and support of workers’ rights in passports. Trustees Patricia, Josh, and Melissa, and Conductor Sentinel Tony.
The following are national officers appointed by the President: Chief Steward Richard, Communicator Emilie, and Webmasters Emilie and Jessica. Once again, a big thank you to every national officer and the work they do to maintain and advance worker rights within passports.
Agency Settles – Leave for Voting
In 2022 a grievance was filed on behalf of employees who applied for and were denied admin leave to vote during midterm elections. On October 26, 2022 Global Talent Management released a department notice explaining the new paid time off for federal employees to vote. On March 24, 2022 the Office of Personnel Management announced this new leave, and the Department of State updated 3 FAM 3464.2 to reflect the policy. However, some of our employees were denied this time, and used their own leave to go vote. The Union filed a grievance, and the Agency chose to settle, and returned employees’ personal leave. Great job NFFE 1998!!
Arbitrator Awards BUE Financial Compensation for Untimely Removal of Letter of Reprisal
An employee and the Agency came to a Memorandum of Agreement, for the early removal of a Letter of Reprimand on the employee’s file. Letter of Reprimand’s are disciplinary actions that typically stay on an employee’s eOPF account for up to one year. However, the Agency failed to remove the Letter of Reprimand within the agreed upon two weeks. It remained on the employee file weeks after the one-year mark as well.
In response to the violation the employee filed a second grievance. The arbiter sided with the Union, awarded the employee $2,000 because he did not receive what he and the Union had bargained for and were promised. Secondly, the arbiter directed a “tickler system” be created by 2/28/2023 to monitor and ensure the timely removal of Letters of Reprimand from employees’ files.
The Agency chose to file an appeal with the FLRA regarding the cash remedy and the “tickler system” remedy. The Union filed oppositions. Until the appeal is addressed by the FLRA the tickler system will not be implemented, and the employee will not be paid. To be continued.
Congratulations NFFE 1998 for the Second Most Members Added in January 2023!
Our Union, NFFE 1998 received an Organizing Excellence Award in the month of January 2023 for its membership building. 13 new members signed up! Our ability to advocate for improved pay, benefits, and working conditions depend on a strong dues-paying membership. Ultimately the work we do to improve Passports helps build a better future for working people everywhere.
Annual IAMAW Convention Recap – New Committees Added to Our Bylaws
In October 2022, Jessica, Acting Secretary Treasurer at that time, had the pleasure of representing NFFE1998 at the 40th Annual IAMAW Convention in Las Vegas, NV. The Conventions major focus was on the proposed amendments to the constitution and raising money for the Guide Dogs of America/Tender Loving K-9’s and the Machinist Non-Partisan Political League.
During the convention many amendments to the constitution were voted on and approved. One of the big changes was adding 3 new Committees to the IAM Constitution, these changes apply to all local lodges, therefore we will be adding them to our Bylaws. In the coming weeks we will be announcing the revisions to the Bylaws, and they will be available to vote on during the Monthly Dues Paying Member Call. Please keep an eye out for future information regarding the updated Bylaws.
This committee shall assist in education, organizing, representation and community outreach on issues which will enhance the representation of women and encourage participation from our sisters in the Lodge.
Human Rights Committee
This committee shall assist in education, organizing, representation and community outreach on issues that will enhance the representation of the lodge in diversity, equity, and inclusion matters.
This committee shall work in coordination with the I.A.M. Grand Lodge Veterans’ Services Program in identifying, networking, and assisting I.A.M. Military Veterans in transitioning from active duty back into civilian life, assist with employment opportunities in I.A.M. represented workplaces and assist with attaining benefits earned during their time of official military service.
If you would like to get more involved, build resume boosting skills, and volunteer to assist with committee work please inquire through your local steward or reach out to the national officers.
Photo of NFFE Representatives of NFFE National and NFFE1998
President Biden’s video message to IAM Members
Employees often ask, what does the Union even do?
A LOT. We try our best to stay up to date with all the many changes announced. We respond to proposed updates to the FAM, we try to build a positive and cooperative relationship with management, and we represent our employees when they are harmed by managements actions.
This first quarter has been extremely busy for the Union. First, we have new national officers elected into the Secretary and Treasurer positions, learning their new roles. Second, we have had 15 local grievances filed and 3 national grievances filed.
Nationally, employees should have all been given MIS time to learn how the new performance management software works. However, some offices did not provide MIS to watch the required 1 hour Roadshow training. The Union responded to this disparate treatment and harm on employees’ application per hour production numbers with a grievance.
In January 2023, a memorandum signed by the Secretary of State authorized the use of Bluetooth technology in all unclassified spaces. Some passport offices are allowing it, while other offices are extending the prohibition. In response, the Union has filed a national grievance.
Finally, the surprise increase of applications per hour in the 2023 performance standards was released in January to the Union, and in February to all employees. The late notice of the new application per hour requirements put all employees at a disadvantage. This change constitutes several violations of our contract, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Locally, there have been a lot of issues to assist with, from official time denied, Weingarten rights disregarded, to denied promotions. We are all working hard, working overtime, and suffering the stress of the high workload. If you need assistance, reach out to your local steward or the national officers ASAP. It often takes time to investigate, learn what rights we have through our contract, strategize, and write grievances. The deadline to submit grievances comes fast and are our primary way of supporting employees when management is unwilling to resolve issues on a lower level.
Bluetooth Grievance Submitted
In April of 2022 the FAM Digest published an update on the revision of 12 FAH-10 H-150, stating, “This is a modernization policy update to end the Department-wide prohibition on Bluetooth capable devices.” Our Union followed up with headquarters in May of 2022 to see if Bluetooth would be available for use in passport offices following the FAM updates. In December, headquarters finally responds, saying that employees are not yet allowed to use Bluetooth. In January 2023 an ALDAC is published, stating that “Effective immediately, the use of Bluetooth technologies is authorized in unclassified areas of all Department facilities worldwide.”
Since then, some passport agencies have allowed the use of Bluetooth, while others continue to ban its use. Headquarters states that it is in the process of evaluating the ALDAC and departmental guidance to see if it applies to passport offices. The Union filed a grievance in March of 2023 to advocate for the use of Bluetooth in all passport offices in accordance with the Secretary Blinken’s signed ALDAC.
In the News
Members of Congress Defend Telework, Remote Work
On March 9, 2023 there was a hearing on government oversight. In the beginning of the year some lawmakers tried to stoke unjustified resentment against federal employees teleworking. However, several members of Congress defended the use of telework in federal agencies, and specifically gave examples of how telework is a tool that enables military spouses to help provide for their families and build portable careers. Read more at afge.org.
South Carolina Congressman Cautions Travelers About Passport Applications
Representative Ralph Norman from South Carolina is cautioning travelers to plan ahead for upcoming international travel if they need to get a new passport for their trips. One gentleman shares his experience with the online passport renewal system.
At Least 1,000 Passport Employees in the UK to Take Part in 5 Week Strike
Britons wishing to renew their passports are concerned they may need to make alternative travel arrangements during the summer travel season. At least 1,000 workers in England, Scotland and Wales are scheduled to strike from April 3 to May 5th. The passport employees are members of the Public and Commercial Services union, and are asking for higher pay amid the ever increasing cost of living. Read more here.
This is a good time to remind our own passport employees that it is illegal for us to strike, and has been ever since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Participating in any type of work stoppage is prohibited.
White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and M-Power
The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment issued an update on the implementation of approved actions. The task force is committed to worker rights, the right to a free and fair choice to join a union, and to dignity in the workplace. Read more here.
After reviewing this White House Statement NFFE 1998 discovered that the U.S. Department of State is participating in M-Power, “a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy.” It is admirable the U.S. Department of state is participating in M-POWER and committing $130 million with its partners the U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Agency for International Development to empower workers and strengthen the worker voice.
However, NFFE 1998 is disappointed with the lack of follow through by the Agency in implementing the ideals of this initiative. Management within CA, in particular, is not behaving in a manner supportive on Organized Labor. They are resistant to empowering Bargaining Unit Employees (BUE) and make little effort to seriously consider input from them or their Union Representatives.
For example, BUE made several recommendations for the new passport online renewal software development. BUE are rightfully disappointed with the software product presented to us. We take pride in our work and don’t feel respected or valued when given broken tools to work with.
BUE have great ideas for how to improve passport forms but have been intentionally left out of meetings that develop new forms, because of workload constraints. To increase efficiency and minimize notations there should be IN-941 added to the for issuing office only boxes, because this is written out millions of times annually on passport applications. The Union has made many recommendations to improving the FAM, and are often times told that our recommendation will be considered in the next revisions instead of the current version that we were asked to contribute on in the first place.
Overwhelmingly the evidence shows that our voices have been silenced. There are symptoms of learned helplessness amongst BUE. Until Management regards the Union and its members as equals and not subordinates, the role of the Department of State’s own Union, NFFE 1998 cannot be elevated.
When Management cooperates with and collaborates with the Union interests of both parties are addressed; this contributes to the effective conduct of public business. Bargaining and grievances are amicable and are more often than not settled at the lowest levels (the earliest stages of the process). Unfortunately, Consular Affairs, Passport Services Management has a long history of pushing even simple disputes to the maximum end where an outside third party must weigh in to resolve. The overwhelming majority of these cases have been in the Union’s favor. While we are thankful for a clear path to take our complaints through, we’d prefer to resolve them at the lowest possible level. It requires a lot of resources to take every complaint through the long arduous process of arbitration; and we’d prefer to reallocate our resources elsewhere.
The M-Power initiative is so new that the Union hopes that as more time passes positive changes will filter down to Passport Services Management.
NFFE Opposes “Show Up” Act
Our Union, NFFE 1998, is a part of the larger Union, the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). NFFE stays alert to proposed laws that impact federal workers. In January 2023 NFFE opposed the “Show Up” Act (H.R. 139), legislation introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-KY) that would force federal employees to return to physical offices within 30 days if they had been working in an office prior to the COVID pandemic. To learn more, read this post.
NFFE Supports New Legislation to Give Federal Employees 8.7% Pay Adjustment
In January, the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act of 2023 was introduced to congress. It would provide an 8.7% increase in pay for federal employees help offset the increased costs of living. Additionally, according to the Department of Labor, federal employees salaries are severely lacking behind comparable positions in the private sector. The public-private pay gap has grown and was estimated to be 24% in 2022. The pay gap leads to more challenges in recruitment and retention in the civil service. To learn more, read this post.