You may recall the Bush Administration suffered a defeat in their attempt to privatize Social Security. After this initiative failed due to public outcry, the focus of Bush’s presidency shifted back to the war in Iraq. This defeat does not mean the Republican efforts to outsource Social Security are finished, not by a long shot. The initiative to privatize Social Security, which is part of the “Contract with America” to reduce government, has shifted from a political campaign to a slanderous attempt to discredit the agency and sway public opinion back in favor of privatization.
This is being done by eroding the agency from within. They are discrediting Social Security’s front line employees to make the agency look incapable of fulfilling its charter. Social Security’s front line employees come in two varieties: service representatives you meet in your local field office, and Tele-Service representatives you speak with when you call the national 800 number. These front line workers are unionized under the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). After the Bush Administration’s effort to privatize Social Security failed, the Administration took sweeping measures to limit AFGE’s ability to represent its members. Social Security employees were given a contract that prevents the union from representing its members as it has in the past.
The Bush Administration is implementing a “pay-for-performance” appraisal plan for Social Security employees and a subjective call monitoring initiative that has resulted in the unprecedented attrition of Social Security employees. Social Security’s 800 number representatives are monitored by members of management following subjective guidelines for quality; this monitoring is being enforced with a record number of employee suspensions at the nation’s Tele-Service Centers. Employees are being suspended for infractions ranging from their “tone of voice” to what is being called “rude and discourteous behavior.”
This may sound trivial to the casual observer; however, with no clear guidelines for Service representatives and without considering the context of the calls being taken, the one to five day suspensions being handed down are clearly designed to drive the employee attrition to current levels that call centers in the private sector would shudder at. The unprecedented levels of employee turnover has resulted in a hiring spree of new employees and the expense of their training; a blatant waste of your tax dollars.
Other initiatives designed to drive Social Security employees out are a mandatory four minute limit on each call. If an employee is unable to solve the caller’s problem within four minutes they are required to place the caller on hold and seek assistance from their supervisor. How can a four minute limit on calls serve the best interests of the public? On top of this employee unfriendly work environment, the agency is threatening its employees with work furloughs where each employee would have mandatory unpaid time off each month. These furloughs are designed to further drive employee attrition and make the agency look incapable of managing its budget, all in an effort to sway public opinion in favor of private Social Security. Social Security’s front line employees serve the public day in and day out; they deserve better treatment than this.