Imagine you own a rental property valued at $348,814.00, that generates about $55,000 a year in income for your family, and that it plays a big role in your retirement plans. What are the odds you would not insure the property? If you answer anything other than “Zero,” report immediately to the health unit for a fitness-for-duty exam. You probably should not be walking around the streets without a helmet and attendant. We just read a case decision about a non-supervisory Social Security Customer Service Representative who is a great example of something just like that.

From what we can tell her job paid about $55,000 a year. At least it generated that annual income for her and her family until her supervisor started acting more than a little nuts. He suddenly relentlessly criticized and targeted her until he had made up enough stuff to fire her. Poof! $55,000 a year in income gone, but that was only the beginning of her troubles. For reasons not entirely known to us, the local union didn’t represent her. (More on why later.) So, she had to hire a private attorney. According to published records, he charged her $348,814.00 to do what the SSA employees’ union could have done for her for free. (In fact, we know her union and it has a great record of successfully representing SSA employees unfairly targeted by managers under pressure from above to reach and exceed performance goals.) In other words, even though the attorney got her reinstated to her $55,000 a year job, she was on the hook to take $348,814 from whatever savings she had built up, e.g., remortgage her house, empty her TSP accounts, etc. She was in just about the same mess described above as the person with the uninsured rental property who lost it to a fire caused by a lightening strike.

Now let’s go back to why she did not get free representation from the union and its attorneys. In our experience the most common reason is that the employee never joined the union and was too embarrassed to now ask it for help. She saved about $15.00 a pay period in dues on a gamble that she would never need it. (By the way, in case you think this employee was at fault, the federal agency that ordered her reinstated ordered the agency to send her managers for retaining and to discipline them. That is how wrong he was to treat her that way.) This case provides a very clear and real example of how the decision not to join a union can be just as insane as not insuring a rental property asset.

Another reason why she did not have union representation might be that she went to the union thinking that as a non-member the union had to represent her anyway, but quickly learned that the union does not have to when someone is fired, discriminated against, or the union just thinks their case is not a good use of its members’ funds and time. (Yes, do not believe the myth that unions must always represent you if you are not a member. In fact, assume that the union is not going to spend members’ dues money to help you out.)

Or maybe she thought that if she ever needed representation she could always hire a lawyer cheaply. If so, she is so naïve. The government approved the lawyer charging her that rate because that is the going rate in the market for her type of case. The Department of Justice just approved experienced lawyers in the Washington, D.C. charging $796.00 an hour for services like this employee needed.

Federal employees have the freedom to join or not join a union. They also have the freedom to stick or not stick their hands in the office’s industrial paper shredder or to jab or not jab government pens in their eyes. In each of those cases one of the options is a very wise decision and the other is incredibly self-destructive.

Let’s close with this observation. If your union decided to market itself as an employment insurance service, its advertisement might look something like this:


  • The agency decides to close the office and move it a hundred miles from your home,
  • Someone wants to contract out your job,
  • Management favoritism costs you a promotion or big cash award,
  • A member of the public falsely accuses you of something terrible,
  • Someone damages your reputation by releasing private information from your records,
  • You get injured on the job due to agency negligence,
  • You are ordered to work in an unsafe or unhealthy situation,
  • Management decides to double your workload because it does not have the budget to hire replacements with co-workers retire,
  • Your Alternate Work Scheduled is terminated and your shift hours are changed, or
  • Your supervisor is nuts.


(The facts of this came from an EEOC decision issued on 10/29/2015. That is all we will put in print in order to protect the reputation and privacy of the involved individuals.)

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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2 Responses to

  1. Wanda Long says:

    I thoroughly enjoy reading FEDSMILL. It provides a great service and an opportunity to research varied topics. I would like to share some topics with members. Please advise how I may obtain permission to reprint an article, and of course, I would identify the source and give you credit for your great work.

  2. Pingback: 348,814 REASONS TO JOIN YOUR UNION – NTEU Chapter 17

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