NTEU Wraps Up Interest-Based Negotiations Regarding the Reorganization of OCIE


9/30/11: With the close of the fiscal year, the Union is preparing to conclude one of the longest running negotiations of workplace rights in the history of Chapter 293. For the better part of Fiscal Year 2011, the Union Reorganization Committee (URC) has met every week with senior members of OCIE to discuss the widespread changes proposed by management in the National Examination Program, and successfully modified many changes to ensure that the top-to-bottom reorganization of OCIE would be implemented in a fair and equitable manner.

Beginning in the second half of 2010, OCIE Director Carlo DiFlorio created twenty project teams to explore ways in which the core missions of the NEP could be improved. Collectively, these teams generated over forty separate written analyses, some of which recommended significant changes to established personnel practices and policies.  

The Union immediately recognized the need for a dedicated team to review each of these recommendations for issues impacting the rights of OCIE bargaining unit employees. Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman created the URC to represent the interests of the NEP staff, and appointed Joel Crepea (NYRO), Jeff Lyttle (SFRO), Michael Nally (PLRO) and Paul Prata (BRO) to serve on the team. Since early 2011, the URC, with the able assistance of NTEU Assistant Counsel Ralph Talarico, has engaged in weekly discussions with NEP senior management regarding the changes proposed by NEP senior management. These meetings have resulted in a meaningful and candid communication of each side’s interests and concerns.

 The URC was able to collaboratively develop the following important provisions, preserving important workplace standards in the final policy language underlying the reorganization of the Commission’s examination program:

  • Performance Management – Exam-by-Exam Feedback– Despite repeated concerns voiced by the Union regarding the fairness of the Performance Work Plan (PWP) system implemented by management agency-wide, NEP management endorsed the application of the same evaluation system to provide feedback to each examiner after each examination. The URC was successful, however, in eliminating a rating system that would have given each examiner a numerical score for each exam, thereby establishing a continuous grade point average scheme. Instead, the final agreement regarding feedback focuses on providing a written narrative regarding an examiner’s accomplishments during an exam and does not contain a numerical rating. The URC believes that these changes will increase the fairness of the new exam feedback system and align the policy more closely to the primary goals of the project team that proposed exam-by-exam feedback, namely: “to further advance the professional development of examination staff” and “to increase staff productivity.” Separately, management proposed that lead examiners evaluate the performance of all co-workers on an exam team. The URC objected generally to this concept as an inappropriate transfer of supervisory responsibilities to non-managers. The final policy incorporates significant restrictions so that feedback by lead examiners will be provided only to examiners who are at a lower grade and who have worked fewer than five years at the Commission. In addition, lead examiners will not provide commentary regarding any serious conduct or performance issue arising during an examination. The Union intends to observe this program closely following its implementation.
  • 360 Degree Feedback– The Union successfully negotiated the development of a 360 degree feedback process with management that will allow NEP staff to provide written feedback to the managers who supervise them. The current proposal is in the design phase but will involve at least an annual opportunity for examiners to evaluate the effectiveness of NEP supervisors by completing a form which identifies key supervisory areas. Comments will be used to identify areas for professional development and training for the managers being reviewed.
  • New Roles in the NEP – Project-Based Staffing– During its weekly meetings, the URC discussed at length the project-based staffing model proposed by NEP management. The URC used these opportunities to communicate a frequent concern heard from its membership, that branch chiefs were not adequately involved during an examination. Agreement was reached to incorporate language in the job description for exam managers that stressed the importance of this front line supervisor being more involved in all aspects of the exam, particularly field work. The Union plans to monitor this aspect of the NEP as well and encourages employees to provide feedback on this element, both through the 360 feedback mechanism and also directly to the Union.
  • Implementation of New AD Groups– The selection of AD groups, a cornerstone of the project-based staffing model, is now nearly complete in most offices and divisions. The URC was instrumental in preserving the anonymity of the voting process and ensuring that final adjustment of the groups would be a collaborative process between the local stewards and management.
  • Recognition of Employees– The Union also attempted to negotiate a joint-awards program as part of the OCIE reorg. The discussions were productive, and management gradually become more comfortable with the concept. These talks on this issue were abruptly ended, however, by senior management at the agency above OCIE. The Union continues to believe that if these discussions were permitted to continue we would have reached agreement. The Union will continue to pursue this issue within OCIE as well as Commission-wide.

"This effort is a great example of what can be accomplished collaboratively at the SEC," Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman said this week. "I am very proud of the work of Jeff, Joel, Mike and Paul, our Union representatives on the URC. And I also commend the leadership displayed by OCIE Director Carlo di Florio by giving his full support to this approach. Carlo understands the importance of listening to the feedback of his frontline staff. I look forward to continuing to work with him in the future." 

The Union hopes to continue to build on the goals it shares with NEP senior management – to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the exam program – while preserving essential workplace protections. This is an ongoing process and many of the changes discussed above are currently being implemented or will be put into place in FY 2012. 

The Union will continue to be vigilant regarding the implementation of these changes and plans to implement an NEP mailbox to monitor and respond to implementation issues as they arise.  The mailbox will be launched shortly. Members are also encouraged to communicate any concerns regarding these changes to their local steward or to any of the URC members.

The Union would like to commend the management team which engaged in this process in an open and frank way which allowed the group to develop policies that took into the account the interests of the employees and management. By working in an interest-based manner, the group was able to bridge the gap on several key provisions where there was initial disagreement.

This project has illustrated the power of collaborative problem solving from an interest-based approach – which is why both management and Union representatives received the Labor-Management Relations Award for their work on this reorganization. The Union hopes to build on the achievements of the URC/NEP discussions by employing the interest-based model in future discussions with NEP management and throughout the agency. We believe that if the Commission would engage in similar discussions regarding nationwide issues, the parties could transform the SEC into one of the most efficient workplaces in the federal government.