Local 1000 teams up with Social Security Administration
A much anticipated conference call between SEIU Local 1000 and the Social Security Administration (SSA) occurred last Thursday, with both sides agreeing to work more closely together in the future. Commissioner Astrue was flanked by eight other SSA heads, most of them deputy directors, as well as two SSA attorneys. The Local 1000 chief counsel, legislative director and several analysts and program technician from various DDSD branches were included in the call.
During the conference call Commissioner Astrue told the group that last year he was informed by Gov. Schwarzenegger's staff that, "SEIU insisted on the furloughs." Now that he realizes that is not true has been "kicking himself" for not contacting the union sooner, and now believes "our interests are congruent."
Commissioner Astrue extended the support of his office to Local 1000 and has SSA staff to assist Local 1000's endeavors in fighting the furloughs. SSA General Counsel David Black committed to assigning regional legal department staff to attend future court hearings in support of the union's furlough lawsuit. Local 1000's legal department is currently working with SSA attorneys to provide evidence of irreparable harm to the DDSD program and claimants. Astrue also instructed Jim Courtney, SSA deputy director of communications, to collaborate with Local 1000 on media releases and other publicity materials. Additionally, when asked by Roseville Analyst LaRae Bustamante about cost of living adjustments (COLAs), the Commissioner asked that Ruby Burrell, Associate Commissioner of the Office of Disability Determinations schedule a conference call with Local 1000 to address additional concerns, including COLAs. At present, Local 1000 is waiting for a response from Ms. Burrell for potential dates to hold another conference call.
When asked about federalizing the DDSD program Commissioner Astrue was frank, stating that federalizing DDSD is extremely costly, and he doubts Congress would approve such an expensive undertaking. In some states (e.g., Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi) federal DDSD branches have been created to help with the backlog of pending claims.
The conference call ended with both Local 1000 and the SSA agreeing to begin regular communication. Local 1000 intends to follow up with the SSA after the Feb. 22 court hearing for the special funds lawsuit. Anticipating more furloughs of DDSD offices nationwide, Astrue said he hopes "California will become the standard" for SSA to work in unison with SEIU. Local 1000 is coordinating talks between the SSA and SEIU locals in other states with hopes that collaborating on a national level will help mitigate the impact of furloughs on the DDS program overall.