Georgia Association of FSA County Office Employees


​​G.A.C.O.E

All Presidents Conference Call

January 23, 2019

1:00 Central Time

 

Introduction

 

Recognize Officers and Execs
Recognize Legislative Team
Recognize Publicity Chairperson
New territory with this shutdown and furlough

Even though you hear the government is shutdown it really aren’t
For the most part, the public is not feeling the pain
TSA has been working unpaid full time.  Many have traveled this past weekend and had no trouble getting through security
IRS is bringing 43,000 unpaid employees in to process tax refunds
USDA issued the February food stamps early to avoid pain by recipients
NRCS has been working all along
And now FSA County Office employees are coming back to work
All these efforts are part of government wide effort to ease the pain of the shutdown
These efforts to ease the pain for the public are at the expense of employees and are counterproductive to solving the shutdown
It is sad that the Ag appropriation Bill was finalized last fall and just got caught up in this latest debate

NASCOE knows this has been extremely stressful for membership
NASCOE has been working diligently to be able to provide answer and information
NASCOE has had access to the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations and other national office support staff
Answers are sometimes a little slower in coming back to NASCOE because of the USDA Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center.  Previously NASCOE would deal with FSA leadership in times like these, but now questions NASCOE send up now must be forwarded to the Business Center
NASCOE has been able to submit questions through DAFO, the administrator and support staff
NASCOE has talked with the administrator 3 times in the last 5 days Including last Saturday and Sunday

Updates

NASCOE Calls with the Administrator and FSA management about the employee “call back”

Negative impact for employees
Loss of unemployment benefits
Those who secured part time jobs may not have to leave then to work for nothing
How can we get employees paid if we are going to be working?

 NASCOE has asked how the status could be changed from furlough to “excepted on call”

New interpretation of existing law made by the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the Secretary supports.  The new interpretation Goes along with the administration’s efforts to make this a painless as possible for the public across all government agencies
Excepted employees include employees who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work.
Secretary has gone to OMB to get programs that have mandatory funding attached to them and made the case that since they were mandatory programs, then the administration of those programs should be required even in a shutdown.
NASCOE understands the needs of our customers- however, NASCOE does not agree with the new OMB interpretation which does not align with the traditional interpretation on what employees are “excepted”.   The new interpretation hurts employees
The existing interpretations may change going forward based on future determinations by OMB
NASCOE has shared the stories about employees and how this change in interpretation will harm them financially
Especially problematic is the loss of unemployment eligibility under the “excepted on call” status designation.
The “excepted on call” is better for employees than just being excepted. 
“Excepted on call” results in a flat 8 hour schedule
“Excepted on call” means you are either working or on furlough.  So, time not at the office would be furlough and not leave, like it would be under the just excepted status.  This designation is a little more friendly than other options.
In NASCOE’s call with the administrator, FSA management has expressed that local managers should be flexible in managing employees schedule
Some examples of being flexible might be employees dealing with Dr. appointments, childcare issues, etc.
The main point of the employee “call back” is to have the office open from 8:00 to 4:30
NASCOE will need to be informed if there are cases where employees are not allowed to participate in a flexible working environment (e.g. keeping scheduled Dr. appointments for example)
The Secretary’s Office is aware of this issue of employees who are “excepted” without pay not being eligible for unemployment.  The other detail to remember is that State Governments set the eligibility for unemployment in the respective states
The bottom line is the Secretary is determined to provide service to production agriculture, even at the expense of employees.

 
Pending Questions

How will deductions and back pay be handled?

The legislation the President signed requires back pay to be issued as soon as possible after we return
FSA isn’t sure how deductions will be handled (one lump sum payment or divided up by pay period) but the will ask the financial management division and return and answer to NASCOE


What is the status of retirement paperwork?

Retirement paperwork will be processed once the shutdown is over

 
What is the status of the COC during furlough?

NASCOE and NAFEC both advocated on the all association call yesterday that the COC should be called in while we are working in handle determinations and to complete the election and organizational meeting
FSA doesn’t have clear guidance from the Undersecretary at this time if the COC will be able to come in to handle business
FSA will go the Undersecretary to see if this is a possibility
COC is classified as being “temporary intermittent” which is problematic
FSA values the COC but will have to overcome the “temporary intermittent” hurdle to get them back in

 

What is the status of the folks that didn’t get their pay from PP26?

About 90% of employees were paid timely
They were working on the other 10% individually but that wasn’t working well
They have added the 10% that didn’t get paid to be processed when PP 1 is ran
Please let us know if anyone is still missing a check after PP1 is processed and disbursed

 

Status of program deadlines?

FSA is supposed to release new program deadlines today
We know that MFP has been extended to February 14


What is the status of GovDelivery once we are at work?

Gov Delivery will be available to use for information related to the approved programs and activities
COF should not be using Gov Delivery to talk about the county office reopening, the national office handle that notification

Will local IT staff be available?

This is unknown.  Employees should submit help tickets on the web to troubleshoot IT issues

 

NASCOE Actions

NASCOE has sent our opposition to the Administrator for being recalled as “excepted on call”
NASCOE is sending letter to Secretary Perdue later today expressing our opposition to being called back without pay.  NASCOE is requesting that the Secretary immediately look at options to pay FSA County Office employees
NASCOE has challenged the USDA and FSA to work with the U.S. Labor Department to relax the unemployment eligibility determination for “excepted” employees (USDA has calls scheduled today to discuss the unemployment issue)
The NASCOE Legislative Team has sent out talking points and guidance on making congressional contacts
We have contacted the NASCOE attorney for an opinion on being recalled
The NASCOE Legislative Consultant has been using all his resources, both legislatively and with the Department to try and find solutions.

The NASCOE consultant had several conversations with USDA to find a way forward to pay employees
This includes trying to find a way to use program dollars
It appears paying employees while working as “excepted” will require a legislative change to be able to get that done.  NASCOE is actively pursuing this option

NASCOE provided critical information to members when USDA shut down

NASCOE very disappointed with information provided by the business center prior to the furlough
Employees were not given adequate information from USDA about what would be needed for unemployment documentation
NASCOE notified employees of what documentation was needed to assist with applying for unemployment
After NASCOE request NFC issued bulletin notifying employees how to reset password without access to work email
After’s NASCOE’s request about W-2’s, NFC issued bulletin updating when W-2’s would be posted

NASCOE has established a furlough information page on the website

Has copies of documents that some employees may be missing
Has extensive links to additional website that employees can access for information
We will be keeping that updated until this is over
We have been using all of our distribution methods at our disposal

 

The Legislative Team is keeping up with legislative actions that effect County Office employees under furlough.  NASCOE is currently reviewing language that is proposed to pay “excepted” employees immediately


Benefits committee will be researching an opportunity for a 0% loan that is linked on the be prepared USDA webpage.  Also, NASCOE is researching applicability of a class action lawsuit for damages owed employees who were “excepted” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and not paid (Program Technicians)

 

NASCOE and NAFEC working together to protect the COC during this process

 

State Association Action Items

 
State Associations should work with their SED or STO will contact the state department of labor regarding unemployment and excepted employees.  Some State Associations have had success doing this
State Associations should engage membership to contact Congressional delegates regarding “excepted” employees working without pay
State Associations should work with their SEDs to ensure flexibilities are available to managers regarding employees’ schedules

 

Cautions


Any contacts with Congressional contacts must be done on personal time
There are Social Media posts that are a little extreme- be mindful that negativity is not helpful during stressful times
Avoid any media contacts as an FSA employee.  Media inquiries regarding the call back or program questions need to be referred to the USDA Office of External Affairs
Employees cannot go into WebTA so time and work will have to be recorded manually
Employees need to be mindful that ethics rules still apply during furlough.  NASCOE will be issuing some reminders on ethics in the future.

 

Fair Labor Standard Act

Class Action Lawsuit

The NASCOE Attorney represents many Federal Employee groups
On December 31st, our attorney filed a class action lawsuit for employees who are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act and who were furloughed and later “excepted” and not paid while being called back to work.  This lawsuit does not apply to furloughed employees not called back to work. 
A similar lawsuit was filed in 2013 as a result of a government shutdown.  The court found that the Federal Government could require employees to come back to work under the status of “excepted” but that they needed to pay those employees.  The court also found that the government did not pay those employees and therefore the employees were owed by the government damages in addition to back pay.  The damages are the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour doubled to $14.50 an hour) for each hour an employee had to work without receiving their paycheck on time.  Again, this is in addition to their back pay.
NASCOE and the NASCOE Attorney are in the process of determining if the class action lawsuit applies to FSA County Office Employees who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards At.  In the case of County Office Employees, if the act does apply it will cover PTs, but not managers.

Lawsuits in Reference to the interpretation of “exempted” employees

Concern over the legality of employees being pulled in who are not legitimately protecting life and property.
Some legal actions have been started and others are being considered.
It is generally thought that legal action outside the FLSA (lawsuit mentioned above) won’t be fruitful as the government is “sovereign” and can act as needed.

 

Adjourn 2:00 PM CST