ALJ Union Accuses Social Security of Bad Faith Bargaining

Posted July 19, 2019 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The president of a union representing the administrative law judges (ALJs) who adjudicate disability claims has accused the Social Security Administration of bargaining in bad faith. The accusation follows news that federal mediators declared the agency and union to be at impasse in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) President Melissa McIntosh said her union has filed an internal grievance with the agency over its negotiating practices as they discuss a new contract. She said she believes management is focused on standardizing contracts with disparate bargaining units, rather than on improving efficiency for taxpayers.

“I think what’s most obvious would be their aggressive posture in mandating contracts that are the same for all bargaining units at SSA,” McIntosh said. “You have a bargaining unit that’s made exclusively of judges, and then there’s [the American Federation of Government Employees], which is a bargaining unit of 45,000 employees with diverse positions, and then there’s a [National Treasury Employees Union] bargaining unit. It’s not bargaining in good faith to say, all three times, that we want the contracts to look the same.”

AALJ and Social Security have been negotiating provisions of a new collective bargaining agreement since March, culminating in two weeks of mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service last month. At the end of those two weeks, FMCS Commissioner Randall Mayhew declared the parties to be at an impasse.

The agency’s “last best offer” to the union, which was reviewed by Government Executive, includes several proposals that have become standard in the Trump administration, including shifting telework policies to be entirely at the discretion of the agency and a drastic reduction in the amount of official time the union can use. In this case, SSA proposed a 90% cut to official time, from an annual bank of 22,000 hours in the current contract to only 2,000 hours.

“We simply cannot function as a union and meet our statutory requirements [to represent employees] on only 2,000 hours,” McIntosh said. “And they’ve done the same thing to try to aggressively eliminate official time for AFGE and NTEU.”

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.


By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

How Does Age Affect a Disability Claim?

Posted July 12, 2019 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers several factors to establish an individual’s entitlement to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, and age is one of those criteria. If you are 50 years old or older when applying for Social Security disability, it may be easier for you to get approved for disability benefits than it is for a younger person. This is because the SSA knows it can be harder for an older person to learn a new job skill or to make the transition into a new work place. The SSA refers to this as making a “vocational adjustment.”

To account for the difficulty older claimants may have making vocational adjustments, the SSA has something called the “grid rules” it uses to decide some disability claims. The grid rules are one way you can get approved for disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance. Social Security generally uses the grid rules only after it has determined that you can’t do the jobs you’ve done in the recent past.

These grid rules use the following factors to determine whether an applicant is disabled:

  • applicant’s age
  • applicant’s education level
  • the skill level of the applicant’s past work
  • whether the applicant learned any skills that can be used in a different job, and
  • the applicant’s residual functional capacity (RFC).

For the purposes of the grids, the SSA divides applicants into the following age groups:

  • younger individuals (18 through 49)
  • closely approaching advanced age (50 to 54)
  • advanced age (55 and over), and
  • closely approaching retirement age (60 and over).

The older you are, the less likely you are to have transferable skills into other occupations. For example, if an individual is 55 or older and is limited even to light work, or less than a full range of medium work, they may be approved for disability even if they have a high school education and their prior work was unskilled or their skills are not transferable. This is because Social Security expects a worker to take on very little vocational adjustment at this age.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

See the Grids here:

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Happy 4th of July from Premier!

Posted July 5, 2019 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Premier Disability Services would like to wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July weekend! Before you fire off a bunch of bottle rockets this weekend, spare a thought for your fingers, toes and other extremities. Injuries from fireworks send thousands of Americans to the emergency room around this time of year, new data shows. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were an estimated 9,100 fireworks-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2018; and of these, about 5,600 occurred in the one-month period around July 4th (from June 22 to July 22).

If you have suffered a hand injury, whether from a firework accident or otherwise, and it prevents you from working, then you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.

Nearly every job requires full and complete use of the hands. Anyone who has “manipulative limitations” caused by injury or pain needs to be aware that this can be an important component of a disability claim. While more obvious in situations involving a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome or a specific hand injury, this limitation can also be important even when it is not the major disabling condition.

Social Security law says that in order to do even unskilled, sedentary work a person must have good use of both hands and the fingers – this is called “bilateral manual dexterity” in the regulations. Any significant limitation in a person’s ability to handle, pick up and finger small objects is important in the disability decision. Many claimants have conditions that restrict the amount of lifting they can do. Anyone person who can lift and carry even 10 pounds for most of the day may still be found capable of sedentary work, under Social Security regulations. The addition of a manipulative limitation, particularly of the dominant hand, can be enough to tip the scale in favor of the claimant.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®