Regarding proposed changes to federal retirement benefits—
Read the letter from various Senators to the Senate leadership.
Read the letter from various House members to the Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Regarding proposed changes to federal retirement benefits—
Read the letter from various Senators to the Senate leadership.
Read the letter from various House members to the Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
As we wind down the FY, here is an update on a number of matters.
Earlier this month a bill was signed to fund the federal government through Dec. 8, 2017. Additional legislation is required to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2018. NTEU remains in close communications with USPTO management, and will continue to provide updates about a potential government shutdown as December 8 approaches. In the recent past we have remained open during a shutdown.
As a reminder, the current administration proposed cuts to retirement benefits for current and retired federal employees in its 2018 budget proposal. The most significant of these cuts would require federal employees to pay significantly more towards their pensions—a de facto annual pay cut of 6-7%—and would halt the practice of providing retirees cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for the FERS pension. These proposed cuts were also recently supported by House Conservatives. NTEU continues to fight these proposals. See also the attached letters. To date, none of the proposals have made their way into any current legislation. These cuts are likely to be debated during discussion of the 2018 federal budget.
Barring intervention from Congress, federal employees will receive, on average, a raise of 1.9% in 2018 subject to differences based on locality pay. NTEU continues to advocate for a 3.2 percent pay raise for federal employees in 2018.
Without an extension, the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (TEAPP) will sunset on December 8, 2017. As the fall Congressional calendar remains filled with high-priority legislative issues (budget, healthcare, tax reform, disaster relief assistance, etc.), we think it is unlikely that any legislation will be passed prior to the deadline. Therefore, we have been working with USPTO and TM management (including meeting later today) on alternative telework arrangements. If you have any questions about TEAPP, please contact Jay Besch. There are currently 32 slots available on TEAPP.
Please see the attached titled “Bills That Matter” for other legislative issues that NTEU is working on.
Two testers selected by NTEU 245 have begun working closely with CIO and TM management to test CK Editor before it goes to a beta testing environment. There remain a number of other outstanding issues with TMNG; it will be some time before it is deployed to our attorneys. Please contact me, Jay Besch, or Julie Watson if you have any questions.
We continue to meet in partnership with a wide-range of PTO business units to see if we can kick start a loan reimbursement program for our attorneys. The Office is going to talk to other agencies to see how it has been done elsewhere and what criteria is used to evaluate success. As you know, this is a very important priority for our union. Please contact me, Cathie Faint, Christopher Nunley, or Christina Calloway if you have any questions.
The Office is working with all the unions on a peer-to-peer recognition program. The program would allow non-supervisory employees to nominate their peers for outstanding contributions; this will be a non-monetary award. Please contact me or Cathie Faint with questions.
We have also been discussing a Voluntary Leave Bank Program (VLBP) in partnership with management and the other unions. The VLBP is a pooled fund of donated annual leave that is then available to employees who are members (and contributors) to the VLBP. Those members can then apply to access shared leave during a medical emergency. We are getting pretty close to finalizing this deal. Please contact me, Cathie Faint, or Alain Lapter with questions.
We continue to be very active as members of the Trademark and Patent Public Advisory Committees (TPAC – me, PPAC – Cathie). The committees meet every three or four months in Alexandria and in-between review various matters: IT and TMNG, operations, the budget, the TTAB, International activities, and Congressional affairs.
As you have likely seen and heard, TMs is looking to hire more attorneys next year. As we continue to grow, we will make sure that all of our on-site attorneys—no matter their grade level—continue to have their own private office.
We also hope to see our new attorneys, who are currently in the Knox building, moved to Madison in the very near future. It has taken way too long for this to happen and we are seeking an update—a firm date—on when this might occur.
While the PTO labor management forum (LMF) has not formally met for some time, the Office is engaged in various partnership activities with all three unions as seen above.
The DOC LMF is very active. All the DOC bureaus and their unions meet every three months and engage each other in-between formal meetings to tackle issues that generally impact all DOC employees.
Members of our Executive Board formally meet with the Trademark Group Directors the third Tuesday of every month to discuss labor-management issues, and otherwise meet informally with TM senior management when we need to address pressing matters.
Please let us know if you are having any problems with how the relatively new time and attendance requirements have been rolled out. The Office is also collaborating with all three unions on the rollout of the record sharing platform, which will keep track of when you log or swipe in and out. We have seen a demo and will be beta testing the program. It likely will not be provided to you until November.
As a reminder, for the first time in a long time attorneys in our unit will now be able to receive a quality step increase or QSI (see attached MOU). Those who receive the top ACE award (level III) and meet other criteria would be eligible, beginning the end of this FY.
If you do become eligible, I suggest you contact me or another Executive Board member so we can advise you regarding the pros and cons. At our suggestion, the Agency also agreed to provide informational counseling sessions from the Office of Human Resources upon request of the employee.
E-Board members periodically meet with the tenth floor to discuss ongoing concerns with examination policy and procedure. Among the most significant of these recently is phone percentage and how examiners are being hit with new issues such as fake specimens and failure to function/ubiquitous refusals that make it more difficult to reach phone percentage goals, along with the fact many more applications are being filed by Chinese applicants. We have raised this issue repeatedly with management and they are now reviewing phone percentage statistics as well as methods of encouraging applicants to call back. In addition, we have provided input on documents that set guidelines for granting signatory authority and that surveyed new examiners about their TEALE experience in order to revamp new examiner training. We have also raised concerns about the length of time it is taking the office to process documents such as SOUs and Voluntary Amendments, discussed the distribution of new laptops to our examiners, and we are encouraging management to make the next session of TORCH or its equivalent voluntary or at least available online.
If you want to appeal your 2017 FY rating, you should first comment in writing to the approving official (whomever your manager reports to) within five working days of receipt of your rating. If you bypass that step, you would need to file a grievance within 30 days. Please contact me if you want to explore either option. We strongly recommend first submitting comments to the approving official. Signing your rating does not mean you agree with it.
In news I know all of you onsite have been waiting on, the Office has proposed to all three unions a technology refresh on vending machines on the Alexandria campus. Madison East would have combo unit vending machines (vending machines with drinks and snacks in the same machine) placed on every other floor. Micro markets would also be installed in other buildings. Pretty exciting stuff.
The promotion of $100 for signing up to be a member of the union runs until the end of September. Attached is the 1187 membership form. Please consider joining this month.
As you can see, we are involved in a number of activities that direly impact your working condition and money. We now have over 350 members; 70% membership remains our goal.
Please let me or an Executive Board member on the cc line know how we can help.
Howard Friedman, President of the Trademark Society, NTEU Chapter 25 at the PTO, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Federal Labor & Employee Relations Professionals. From left to right, SFLERP Second Vice-President Michael Fischetti, Mr. Friedman, and FirstVice-President May Silverstein.
At the 44th annual Symposium of the Society of Federal Labor & Employee Relations Professionals (SFLERP), the Board of Directors presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Howard Friedman. The award recognizes a member of the Society whose career exemplifies an outstanding degree of professionalism, high ethical standards, and an unquestionable dedication to the work of the Society. Howard Friedman is President of The Trademark Society, National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 245. The Trademark Society represents the attorneys in the Trademark operation at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Mr. Friedman has served on the SFLERP Board of Directors as First and Second Vice-President and as President and continues to serve as an ex-officio member. He has presented at numerous SFLERP Symposia, at our regional training, and at the annual LR-ER training presented in the fall.
June 2016 update on various matters.
NTEU 245 has several members currently Beta Testing TMNG and working with the Office to address defects and to improve the user interface and functions. We anticipate that this will continue for some time. NTEU 245 is committed to making sure that the TMNG is not deployed to more employees until it is performing well and without significant issues.
Law office 122, which started recently, is being trained only on TMNG. We have been meeting with the Office and closely monitoring that situation to make sure it doesn’t compromise their ability to meet their PAP goals.
Law office 112 is likely going to be the first office to be trained to use TMNG. However, there are a number of major issues—at least 20–that need to be resolved before TMNG can be rolled out to 112 and a very spirited discussion was held last week with the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (TPAC). Our beta testers are working very closely with Trademark management and the CIO’s office to eliminate the bugs, but it seems the system still has a way to go.
NTEU 245 was very surprised and disappointed with the way Trademark management handled 4th Qtr. Telework Pilot Program deployments. Management decided to keep a cap of 48 slots for GS-12s and GS-13/14s who wish to work from home for a limited number of hours per bi-week. Their action—which occurred while they were sitting on our proposals to make this program permanent with no ceiling on the number–resulted in some of our GS-12s being denied the ability to work at home for a limited number of hours per bi-week. We can only assume they took this action because the Office is now concerned about office space as we continue to grow and wants to use this issue as a bargaining chip in negotiations. We will keep you posted.
When we were made aware of this development we asked them to reconsider their decision to hold the cap firm at 48 slots and allow those few extra applicants to participate in the program. Through our joint efforts we have been able to get more GS-12s the ability to apply for the program.
We do want to point out that this does not impact those who work, or want to work, from home full-time.
C. METRO SAFETRACK
You may have seen the recent guidance issued on the impact of this maintenance program of the Metrorail system. We encourage those of you who work at home part-time to talk to your manager about increasing your hours at home. From the discussions we had in partnership, you should be given this flexibility, whether you do or do not take metro, in view of the impact this program will have on traffic.
D. NTEU NATIONAL LITIGATION AND CONGRESSIONAL MATTERS
On June 3, NTEU amended its lawsuit against the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) arising out of the data breaches that OPM announced last June. NTEU amended its complaint to add an additional individual plaintiff and to include information that has been made available since the filing of the original complaint. NTEU’s lawsuit continues to allege a single claim: a breach of NTEU members’ constitutional right to informational privacy. And it continues to request the same relief, which includes lifetime credit monitoring and identity theft protection for any NTEU member who received a notice concerning either of the breaches that OPM announced last June. You can find a copy of the amended complaint, as well as periodic updates on the lawsuit, on NTEU’s web site at www.nteu.org/members/opmlawsuit.aspx.
This week, NTEU is launching a campaign on Facebook supporting paid parental leave for federal employees. There are pending bills in the House and the Senate that would provide six weeks of paid parental leave and Father’s Day provides an opportunity to push for additional support for the legislation.
Watch the NTEU Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NTEUnational) for the posts this week. All the posts will link to the NTEU legislative action center where federal employees, when off duty, can send an email to their members of Congress asking for their support.
E. OTHER MATTERS
We are involved in a number of other matters these days, including the innovation challenge, the ombudsman program, a bicycle commuter reimbursement program, computer downtime, phased retirement, shared services, extension of the Telework Enhancement Pilot Program (TEAPP), the PTO wellness committee, a quality evidence group, the Trademark and Patent Public Advisory Committees (TPAC and PPAC), the Department of Commerce and PTO labor management forums, the customer experience at the PTO, and other matters as we strive to improve your working conditions.
Our Summer Campaign is underway. If you join as a new member at this time, you will receive $100 cash back. Please speak to any EBoard member if you would like to join today.
Let us know if you would like any additional information on any of these initiatives.
As we all look back on the past year, certainly it has been an interesting one. As many of our colleagues both inside and outside of the agency have said, what we do here at the USPTO matters to people and the economy.
IT challenges continue as many of us experience intermittent problems with X-Search, access to the VPN and other systems. We have been asking management for information about when the problems will be fixed.
Congress passed yet another Continuing Resolution to maintain current levels of agency funding in the federal government until midnight on December 16. The past year has also presented an economic challenge for the agency as fee monies were down for both Trademarks and Patents, requiring the agency to dip significantly into our operating reserves to keep our various initiatives running.
As our telework program came under increased scrutiny by Congress, and the IG’s Office, and negative treatment by some in the press, representatives from management and all three unions met to clarify our time and attendance policies. After many discussions pointing out that we already had very detailed policies and requirements in place, all 3 unions agreed that full-time teleworkers must provide advance notice of their work schedules and must use collaborations tools and be connected to PTONet when it is available and functioning. We did this in advance of the positive NAPA report that came out noting there is, “no differences between the teleworkers and non-teleworkers in their performance and conduct.”
Our TEAPP program is also touted by the agency as a success for both employees and the agency. Total TEAPP mandatory trips for the entire agency for FY2014 and FY2015 were 87 trips by individual participants. TM Management proposes to significantly increase this number by requiring all 133 Trademark TEAPP participants to come into the Office next spring for a “homecoming” to encourage “reconnection and collaboration.” NTEU 245 thinks it is important to note that TEAPP participants must pay out of their own pockets for this mandatory trip to campus. Trademark employees who chose to change their duty station to participate in TEAPP may be subject to adjustments in their locality pay, unlike Patents employees who receive a significantly higher rate of pay under their “national” pay scale. In FY 2014, based on Trademark examining attorneys currently participating in TEAPP, NTEU 245 attorneys saved the Office considerable money in salary differentials as opposed to our Patent examining counterparts. We also have an 18 year history of telework with the Office and our use of those remote connections and collaboration tools by our attorneys have served the Office well. When there are truly necessary reasons for the Office to call people back in that cannot be otherwise done remotely, and that are necessary for doing our jobs, the Office should take those opportunities to have people reconnect and collaborate. Putting such a burdensome requirement on our employees brings into question whether the Office has the proper respect and consideration of employees’ financial and personal obligations and for our professionalism.
NTEU 245 encourages you to let the agency know your views by completing the 2015 People Survey. This survey is sent to every single USPTO employee and offers you the opportunity to provide feedback to Trademark leadership anonymously. You should have received an individualized link for survey participation from the contractor Sirota. Remember, your responses are confidential. One hour of non-production time will be granted to employees who participate in the survey. Employees may use ACORPI-0041-A00001 to record their time taking the survey.
Your feedback may very well help to make a difference in how we all experience the year ahead.
/M. Catherine Faint/
The attachments from NTEU National provide an update on agency preparations for a possible government shutdown. NTEU 245 raised this issue at the PTO labor management forum last Wednesday and I also met with PTO Congressional Affairs. While anything can happen and stranger things have—it is my understanding that the PTO would remain open (like the last time) if there was a shutdown. We suggested that a joint announcement between labor and management be sent out to all employees; the Office is going to look into it.
Please let me know if your manager has inquired about your production and/or raised the issues we faced before on timesheet certification. It seems managers are still obligated to contact their group director if your production is less than 75% of Marginal production for two consecutive bi-weeks despite the elimination of the blue flag from your spreadsheets. Further, some managers are contacting their attorneys even though the revised guidelines removed any arbitrary trigger and you are fully entitled to manage your workflow within the parameters of the PAP.
16 of you received notice from the Office on this topic. If you didn’t, just ignore this. If you did, we have sent an e-mail to the Office requesting a waiver of any overpayment. Let me know if you would like to see our request.
Like Trademark management and the CIO, we are thrilled with the new speed. Thanks to both. I also want to thank our union representatives on the E-Commerce Committee and all our union beta testers for raising this important issue and other important automation issues—for some time now.
Finally, we were pleased to ink another OT agreement for next fiscal year, which currently leaves OT at 20 hours per biweek, and details will be forthcoming next week on extension of the annual leave agreement (Plan 2) for another year. We are also close to signing a deal to implement a phased retirement program for the whole agency. This program would allow eligible full-time employees to work part-time and begin to draw retirement benefits, while enabling the transfer of those employees institutional knowledge to other employees through mentoring.
Let me know how we can help you as we close in on the end of another FY.
Click here to ready about Congress’ actions that affect the federal workforce.
Click here to read the NTEU National President’s letter to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about the Shared Services Initiative.
Click here to read the President Obama’s Executive Order regarding pay raises for federal workers.
Hello everyone! Happy New Fiscal Year. Although the year has just begun, an issue of concern has already arisen, and the NTEU 245 Executive Board wants keep you informed as to our activities on your behalf.
A. Mandatory In-Person Spring Training 2016
You may recall that on Friday last week, the Office sent out a notice to “save the date” for Spring Training 2016, making it MANDATORY FOR ALL EMPLOYEES TO BE ON CAMPUS , ON EITHER APRIL 12TH OR 13TH, depending on the date you’ve been assigned.
We are working on numerous fronts to minimize the disruption to our examiners and to afford our bargaining unit some benefits from this training. First, we have asked the Office to request CLE credit. Second, we have requested the Office consolidate other possible reasons for requiring in-Office attendance, such as getting new PIV cards, at the same time, to minimize the need for further travel. Both of these requests were adopted by the tenth floor and incorporated into Mary’s email to the unit.
In addition, we have asked the Office to let us know what extra hoteling space will be made available and how they will accommodate the large number of visiting examiners. We have further requested that the Office get a reduced-rate block of rooms at lodging establishments near headquarters. In addition, we are requesting that our attorneys be excused from attending the Spring Training for all leave requests made before February 12, 2016 to accommodate vacation and spring break plans, and to excuse people after that time when they demonstrate a personal or financial hardship or illness. Finally, we have requested that the Office afford our attorneys some discretion to choose either April 12th or 13th based on shared lodging arrangements, personal need, or personal preference; although Mary’s email set out dates for each law office, we are continuing to work on this issue.
As of today, despite numerous conferences with the tenth floor, the E-Board has not been provided with an adequate explanation as to why the Office believes that the training requires our attorneys to attend in person. We have merely been advised that the Office feels that the hands-on training for collaboration tools and customer service training cannot be effectively provided remotely. Although we believe this explanation is inadequate, management seems intent on the training, and so we will continue to work on contingency plans to lower costs, lessen disruptions to work and personal obligations, and have the Office take into account plans and hardships that may be encountered by in-person/on-campus requirements. We will keep you advised on our progress.
B. FY2015 Ratings
As specified in our collective bargaining agreement, if you disagree with your rating you should submit written comments to the approving official (whomever your manger reports to) within five working days of receipt of your rating. Signing your rating does not signify that you agree with it, just that you received it.
If you decide to submit comments, or have other questions concerning your rating, contact Howard or another NTEU 245 Board member for assistance. They are listed on the cc line.
We always look forward to hearing from you.
Jay C. Besch
NTEU 245 Executive Board member