Union Challenges Fairness of OHR VSIP Early Retirement Buyout Process


7/17/14: Last week, the SEC’s Office of Human Resources (OHR) announced that it would be offering Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and/or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) to eligible employees commencing this week. The union has challenged OHR’s process for determining who will receive the limited number of VERA/VSIP incentive payments, as well as OHR’s refusal to bargain with the union over how these determinations would be made.

OHR reported that it received authority for 19 VSIP “buyouts” of up to $25,000 per employee, and that they would be allotted on a first come, first served basis to employees who have submitted a complete retirement application and request for retirement estimate, beginning at 8:00 AM EST on Monday, July 14, 2014. From information obtained by the union, it appears that OHR planned to simply award the 19 substantial buyouts to the first 19 emails that arrived in OHR’s inbox at 8:00 AM EST on Monday.

OHR did not notify the union in advance of its intention regarding these buyout payments, nor did it afford the union an opportunity to bargain over the selection process – a right that NTEU has routinely exercised in other federal agencies when there is a limited number of early retirement slots available. Nor did OHR afford the union the opportunity to provide predecisional input regarding the process in accordance with President Obama's Executive Order on labor-management partnership. Last week, senior union officials objected  and demanded bargaining over the selection process. The union was rebuffed by OHR.

This week, the union received a number of complaints from affected employees about the process utilized by OHR to determine who would receive the buyouts. As a consequence, the union has demanded information from OHR regarding the selection process, and has demanded bargaining before any buyouts are paid out.

So far, OHR has refused to identify the employees who requested the buyouts, and it has failed to produce the time stamps on the emails submitted by each of those employees. However, OHR has provided some information to the union, from which we were able to glean the following facts:

  • There were a total of 58 applicants who requested a buyout on Monday;
  • 42 of the applicants were members of the bargaining unit (non-management), or approximately 72%;
  • 16 of the applicants were coded as non-bargaining unit (mostly management), or approximately 28%;
  • Of the 19 “first to apply” according to OHR, 10 were bargaining unit, or approximately 53%;
  • Of the 19 “first to apply,” 9 were non-bargaining unit, or approximately 47%;
  • Of the 39 who will not receive a buyout according to OHR, 32 were bargaining unit, or approximately 82%; and
  • Of the 39 who will not receive a buyout according to OHR, 7 were non-bargaining unit, or approximately 18%.

Currently, close to 60% of the management applicants are slated to receive a buyout, as compared to less than 25% of of the non-management applicants. These numbers have raised serious questions about the fairness of the process utilized by OHR to make these selections. Under the circumstances, the union will be filing a national grievance concerning the failure to bargain over the implementation of this selection process as well as challenging the fairness of the process itself.

"The process for awarding $25,000 early retirement buyouts should not resemble a Black Friday sale at a department store," NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman recently remarked. "We are very concerned about ensuring fairness in this process."

If you were an applicant for one of these buyouts, we urge you to contact the union (in confidence) to let us know, as OHR is currently withholding this information from us, which has prevented the union from communicating directly with you. Furthermore, we urge you not to waive your right to a buyout payment in communications with OHR, as this issue has not been resolved.