Another SSA group wins arbitration for back pay


WASHINGTON -- Union leaders have succeeded in winning back pay for an additional 3,670 Social Security Administration (SSA) technical assistants, paralegals and translators who did not get paid overtime for more than a decade.

The American Federation of Government Employees had taken legal action to force SSA to pay its workers time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours a week.

A ruling last week by an independent arbitrator from Baltimore raises the tally to 24,000 employees given back pay, after two years of grievance proceedings. Both sides had agreed to abide by the ruling, which also awarded interest on the back pay.

Under existing law, certain employees do not qualify for overtime pay. The three exempted worker categories can be thought of as professional, such as doctors, lawyers and certified engineers; administrative, such as labor relations and budget specialists; and executive, such as high-level supervisors and some division heads. The union has pushed the government to make those categories more precise, clarifying which jobs require overtime pay as they would in the private sector.

So far, the bulk of the employees who won this status are claims handlers, who process individual payments to recipients nationwide.

Despite the arbitration agreement, SSA still could appeal this latest decision to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). Calls to the agency were not returned yesterday.

Should administrators decide not to contest the ruling, personnel officers will have to tabulate the number of employees who qualify for overtime and the number of hours worked, dating back to late 1981.

"That could be a while," says Joe Goldberg, the AFGE attorney who argued on the employees' behalf before the arbitrator. "There's a mammoth amount of calculations required."

The sum could reach a staggering $25 million, Mr. Goldberg said. And the union is not stopping there; it wants all members of its SSA bargaining units to get back pay.

"Not only will these AFGE bargaining unit employees be eligible to receive millions of dollars in back pay -- the largest award against any government agency -- but this case opens the doors to bring equity to tens of thousands more in many other federal agencies," AFGE president John Sturdivant says.

A possible second route of appeal is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an executive branch agency that sets federal work force policy. OPM spokesman Michael Orenstein says no decision on filing an appeal has been made.

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