AFGE SSA workers

THEIR VOICES WERE HEARD: American Federation of Government Employees members got a bit of Christmas in July when President Biden fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul with four years still remaining in his term. Mr. Saul, a Trump Administration appointee, took a number of actions that aroused the union's anger, from trying to reduce workers' rights to ending a popular program that had allowed them to work from home prior to the pandemic.

President Biden July 9 fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul after he refused to resign, insisting he should be allowed to fill out a term that was scheduled to last another four years.

Among those cheering his ouster were the unions that represent most of the Social Security Administration's 60,000 employees, which accused him of being hostile to labor and questioned his efforts at what he called reform.

Made Plenty of Enemies

The Washington Post, which broke the story, noted that he had alienated a broad swath of groups connected to the agency, including "advocates for the elderly and the disabled," reporting that they joined congressional Democrats in urging the President to fire him.

In a statement, the White House said that Mr. Saul had "undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits" while infuriating the unions, "including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning." He was also cited for taking "other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President's policy agenda."

"I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security," he told the newspaper, calling his dismissal a "Friday Night Massacre," an allusion to President Richard Nixon's firing of several top aides, including his Attorney General, during the Watergate investigation that led to his 1974 resignation.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Saul discontinued a popular work-from-home option for 12,000 SSA employees that in 2017 his agency's Inspector General found had increased employee productivity.

A Trump Loyalist

He also moved during President Donald Trump's tenure to implement his 2018 executive orders designed to disregard union contracts to allow management to impose terms and conditions of employment while restricting the ability of its unions to represent their members.

Those orders made it easier to terminate civil servants, restricted their avenues for appeal and severely cut the amount of release time that union officials could take from their government jobs to represent members, and opened the door to remove unions from agency offices.

Mr. Saul, a New Yorker, had been appointed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board more than 15 years ago by then-Gov. George Pataki and by President George W. Bush to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which invests Federal employee retirement savings. A major Republican donor and former board member of the Manhattan Institute, he ran into opposition because of his links to the right-wing think tank.

He was appointed by Mr. Trump after the then-Republican Senate Majority blocked President Obama's nominee to head the agency for five years.

'Years of Mismanagement'

"SSA employees have withstood years of mismanagement and poor leadership under Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner Black, and this behavior has only been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic," American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley, said in a statement issued three days prior to the firing. "After ending employee telework in 2019 despite six years of a successful pilot, leadership bowed to pressure from lawmakers and the public in March of last year and allowed all employees to telework due to the pandemic."

He continued, "Yet, SSA's leaders have failed to communicate openly with employee representatives about a clear plan or vision for the agency amid the pandemic and have failed to provide any guidance on plans to return employees to the office in a safe manner."

Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, added that under Mr. Saul's leadership, "the Social Security Administration has achieved the unenviable distinction of being one of the most anti-worker, anti-union agencies in the entire Federal Government."

Slowed Checks for Disabled

The push for Mr. Saul's removal gained momentum after it was reported that he was slow to transmit data on millions of disabled Americans the Internal Revenue Service needed to process their American Rescue Plan stimulus checks.

Mr. Biden's action came after last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the President had considerable discretion to remove officials from posts at independent agencies that had leadership terms set by Congress.

Writing for the majority in the case, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the President's termination prerogative went beyond "just officers who disobey his commands" and "works to ensure that these subordinates serve the people effectively and in accordance with the policies that the people presumably elected the president to promote."

The AFGE had recently written U.S. Rep. John Larson, chair of the House Social Security Subcommittee of Ways and Means, to complain that Mr. Saul continued "to excessively waste funds on extraneous projects like re-branding, rather than prioritize necessary training, retention of employees, and system updates that would modernize and ease processes."

It accused him of cutting overtime so severely that "Employees are unable to keep up with the overwhelming workloads with the consistently decreasing employee numbers. Though there are not enough staff for field offices to operate effectively, headquarters are needlessly being renovated."

Pre-Trump Imperiousness

In 2007, the New York Times reported that Mr. Saul, then a Vice Chair of the MTA and running for a congressional seat, was under scrutiny for taking political donations from "from two developers bidding for the right to build a mammoth residential and commercial complex over the authority's West Side railyards, according to Federal election filings."

In February 2012, the Daily News reported that Mr. Saul, riding his bike near his Westchester estate, trespassed onto security-sensitive city Department of Environmental Protection watershed land, and when confronted by an Environmental Police Officer, refused to stop, requiring the officer to knock him to the ground.

"In hopes of dodging responsibility, Saul claimed he was a police commissioner and showed an MTA Police Department ID bearing the words 'commissioner' and 'civilian'," the News reported. He went on, the article stated, to falsely claim the DEP officer had roughed him up, a charge dismissed by the local police.

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