Recent Shift in Culture at SEC Led in Part by Recent Hires from ICE


5/30/12: Over the past year, the SEC has quietly transformed its Employment Relations unit in the Office of Human Resources. Many of the new staffers, including several managers, who now work in this important office come from another agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These changes may be shifting the culture of the SEC towards the more negative DHS approach to managing human capital.

The Employment Relations unit has an important impact upon your worklife. It is responsible for dealing with relations between the SEC and its employees, as well as the SEC's relations with your union representatives. For that reason, its staffers are involved in every negotiation over worklife benefits and rights, and every conflict that may arise between management and an employee or group of employees. Their decisions help to weave the pattern of our agency's culture and how we all relate to one another in the workplace.

According to this recent opinion piece on FEDSMILL, employment specialists at DHS have for a long time fostered a combative employment relations culture in that troubled agency. They force many more cases to litigation, where they lose more often than not. And the fallout from this approach is highly negative, resulting in strained relations with employees and their union representatives as well as extremely low employee morale. It simply is not the winning strategy for managing the human capital of a successful organization.

As the union reported here, we have recently been seeing a similar approach at the SEC. There has been a significant increase in formal disciplinary cases brought against SEC employees over the past several months, including cases seeking formal discipline for performance related issues and disagreements with supervisors, as well as cases seeking more draconian penalties for relatively minor rule infractions.

This disturbing trend has been accompanied by increasingly aggressive positions taken by OHR employment relations staffers. The SEC is now regularly refusing to respond to many lawful requests for information submitted by the union. The agency also is insisting upon bringing more and more cases to arbitration, rather than making the effort to resolve them without litigation.

In the past, the union frequently was able to work with OHR professionals at the SEC to resolve work related conflicts without the necessity of litigation. We believe that shifting the SEC over to a DHS approach to employee relations will make such resolutions less and less likely, and that this will negatively impact the agency.

NTEU has one of the top litigation track records among public sector employee unions in the United States, and we will of course continue to provide top notch representation if the SEC remains determined to fight over every disagreement that arises at the agency. But the union strongly believes that a more cooperative approach that involves working together to share insights, avoid conflicts, find common ground and solve problems makes much more sense for our agency and the men and women who work here. It is for that reason that we have invested a significant amount of time in the past year in collaborative efforts such as the OCIE reorganization and the SEC's Labor Management Forum. We will continue to make every effort to move the agency back towards a more sensible approach.