Social Security union expects layoffs 3-day work week tied to budget talks


WASHINGTON -- The union president representing Social Security Administration (SSA) employees in the Baltimore area says the agency is planning on laying off its 63,000 workers nationwide two days each week for 11 weeks starting Oct. 2.

The proposed layoffs are more drastic than had been anticipated if the federal budget summit fails to reach a compromise on the deficit by the start of the fiscal year Oct 1.

John Gage, president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees that represents most of the nearly 14,000 SSA employees in Baltimore, said last night that management is insisting on two-day-a-week layoffs and that negotiations had reached an impasse late Tuesday morning.

SSA officials could not confirm Gage's description of the layoff plan, but spokesman Phil Gambino said the two-day-a-week layoffs were an option.

This morning, Gambino reiterated that no final decision has been made. SSA Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King, who was scheduled to give a speech this morning in Arlington, Va., could not be reached for comment.

If the budget deficit negotiations between White House officials and congressional leaders remain unresolved by Oct. 1, then layoffs would go into effect as the primary means by which most federal agencies would cut costs.

If agreement on the budget is reached during the first two weeks of October, layoffs are not expected to be severe. Most federal agencies have planned to cut their costs by laying off workers for partial days or one day a week.

However, if the standoff remains unresolved on Oct. 15, layoffs are expected to be severe.

Unless the budget problem is resolved, federal agencies will be required to cut their planned spending by nearly one-third. They must save 32 cents on every dollar they now plan to spend between Oct. 1 and the end of December. They plan to save most of that, 20 percent, by laying off workers one day a week.

As for Social Security's apparent intention to implement two-day-a-week furloughs until two weeks before Christmas, Gage said in a telephone interview from national headquarters in Woodlawn, "The fur is flying up here. We're angry."

Union negotiators led by Al Levy had sought at least a delay in furloughs until the second week of October, Gage said.

But management attorney Al Seimek insisted on starting furloughs the first week of October, Gage said.

"They want to maximize pain," Gage said.

He said SSA wants to furlough employees on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the case of early October, Gage said, the layoffs would surely disrupt the mailing of monthly Social Security pension checks, which go out Oct. 3.

He avoided any negative comment about Commissioner King, who, according to a Washington Post report last month, had tried to delay furloughs at SSA until Jan. 1 in order to prevent "irreversible damage to the program." Social Security's parent agency refused the King proposal, insisting on starting layoffs in October, the Post said.

SSA spokesman Gambino said King had disavowed a late August statement attributed to Gage in a Baltimore Sun story that the two-day furloughs had already been decided upon. Gage said last night that the die is cast.

"The Bush administration is using this as a wedge in the budget negotiations. They are not handling this in a responsible way. They're doing it to pain the Democrats and to pain federal workers," Gage said.

"Our people are talking about sickouts, especially on Oct. 3 [when retirement checks go out]. If the administration doesn't care about services for the public, then why should we?" Gage said.

AFGE Local 1923 plans a rally next Tuesday at SSA's Metro West building in downtown Baltimore. Gage said local members would join a national demonstration at the Capitol in Washington next Wednesday. If the deficit summit fails Oct. 1, Gage said AFGE is organizing a much larger Oct. 2 national protest outside the White House.

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