Overtime: Are You Paid Properly?

Original post, Facebook, January 5, 2017

It has come to the attention of AFGE Local 1812 officers that employees may be facing pressure to accept compensatory time instead of overtime pay. You need to know your rights.


If you are a non-exempt employee [you are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)], you can never be required to accept comp. time. If you work regularly scheduled overtime [think non-emergency overtime (overtime that the Agency knew would be needed, or should have been aware of the need, prior to the start of the workweek)] there is no choice – you MUST be paid overtime pay. If the overtime is irregular (think emergency overtime) it is YOUR CHOICE.

It is against federal regulation to coerce you to take compensatory (comp.) time. According to 5 CFR 551.531 (c):

“An employee may not directly or indirectly intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten or coerce any other employee for the purpose of interfering with such employee’s rights to request or not to request compensatory time off in lieu of payment for overtime hours.”

Please report suspected violations of this regulation to AFGE Local 1812.


If you are an exempt employee (not covered by the FLSA), you MUST be paid overtime (Title 5 overtime) for any regularly scheduled overtime worked.

If you work irregular overtime and your grade is GS-10 or lower, it is YOUR CHOICE whether you receive comp. time or overtime pay (your Title 5 overtime rate is one and one half your basic hourly rate of pay).

If you are above the GS-10 grade level and you work irregular overtime, it is the AGENCY’S CHOICE on how you will be compensated. If compensated it will be at the Title 5 overtime rate (one and one half the minimum hourly GS-10 basic rate of pay or your hourly basic rate of pay – whichever is greater).



If you are non-exempt and you do not use your compensatory time by the end of the 26th pay period after it was earned, the comp. time converts to overtime pay (at time and one half for every hour of overtime worked).


If you are an exempt employee and you do not use your comp. time by the end of the 26th pay period after it was earned, the Agency has the discretion to either forfeit your comp. time or to convert it to pay. However, if you were not able to use your comp. time by the end of the 26th pay period after it was earned due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., you requested it and your supervisor would not let you use it), you must receive the overtime pay at the overtime rate you would have been paid otherwise.

If you have any have any questions please contact the AFGE Local 1812 office.


Travel compensation time is different. Travel comp. time must be used within a year after it is earned. It has no cash value and expires after one year.

* To determine whether you have been designated as ‘non-exempt’ or ‘exempt’, check box # 10 on your Earnings and Leave Statement. If it is marked “N” you are non-exempt. If it is marked “E” you are exempt.

Stress: The Silent Menace

Original post, December 2, 2016

Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do, in both the private and federal sectors. Stressful working conditions are certainly part and parcel of those who work in U.S. international broadcasting with its deadline pressures, irregular schedules, and occasional frenetic activity. That stress may not compare in intensity with the stress factors of those who work in air traffic control, border protection, the prison system, or the military but they are just as real.

Documentation shows that when workplace stress is chronic and overwhelming, it becomes harmful to both the physical and emotional health and well-being of the employees. Reports from NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Heath) and the CDC recognize that chronic stress can contribute to such physical ailments as depression, blood pressure elevation and cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, and diabetes, among others. Dealing with workplace stress can cause such related coping issues as overeating, smoking or abusing drugs and alcohol.

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the price tag adds up overall to billions a year in lost productivity. If chronic workplace stress is not addressed, it ultimately leads to absenteeism, job resignations, chronic illness, poor quality work, anger, resentment, burnout, disability and worse. NIOSH concurs, adding that stressed-out employees incur healthcare costs that are 46% higher and account for more than 60% of doctor visits. It also figures as a big factor in poor morale, no stranger to the employees in this Agency and well-documented over the years in the OPM Human Capital Survey where the Agency’s low marks have “earned” it the unflattering description of – one the ‘bottom feeder’ agencies and one of the worst places to work in the federal government.

There are many causes of stress in the workplace. Among them: poor management, unclear expectations of employees’ work responsibilities and no say in the decision-making process. This Agency certainly qualifies in all three of those categories.

Chronic under-staffing and increased workload is another and is all too evident in the VOA workforce where many employees must work long hours and overtime without seeing any respite, except empty promises and excuses, down the road. All appeals of the Union to management to correct this situation have been largely ignored which only increases employee frustration. This is exacerbated by the fact that management continues to blithely post more supervisory positions while rank-and-file jobs stay unfilled.

For many years, Agency employees were faced almost annually with threats of a reduction-in-force, the infamous RIF process directed mostly at rank-and-file and not the bloated bureaucracy. This constant feeling of risk of termination had an extremely negative effect on employees and still lingers in the minds of many who survived that time. And the specter of termination appears in many studies as a prime cause of worker stress.

Another factor in inducing stress in the workplace is excessive workload. For the past ten years, our international broadcasters, especially in the language services, have been expected to contribute and create not only products for radio and affiliates but also for TV and social media including videos. There IS a breaking point.

What can be done to reduce workplace stress and contribute to more healthful working conditions and ultimately better morale? That’s a very important issue for Union and Management to discuss and management certainly doesn’t have all the answers as we’ve seen in those silly little ice-cream socials, faux celebrations and hyped-up outings of yesteryear which have had no impact. In a newly renovated workspace a chill-out room was added which shows that management is at least aware that it has a problem with stressed-out employees. What will probably help even more is rewarding employees for their good work, listening to their concerns and treating them as professionals. Allowing more Flextime and working-from-home could also help as it’s been shown to increase the trust factor between Agency management and its employees. To even get that for employees has been a herculean task.

By and large, what has sustained the employees of this Agency has been the unmitigated dedication to the mission of VOA which continues to endure in spite of and not because of its often-uncaring and defective management.

Huzzahs! Handling a Hurricane

Original post, October 18, 2016

AFGE Local 1812 applauds the management at Radio/TV Marti for their handling of the impending arrival of Hurricane Matthew off the coast of Florida and for making the safety and well being of its employees a significant part of its overall plan for handling the weather emergency.

On Wednesday, as Matthew was battering Jamaica and Haiti and swirling in the Atlantic off the U.S. southern coast, the Director of the Martis, Maria Gonzalez, met with senior staff and developed a strategy to deal with the situation. She also addressed the employees and explained the various scenarios developing, depending on the possibilities of the storm’s direction.

On Thursday, Director Gonzalez and all her managers reported to work and pitched in to direct employees to ensure that all the essential work was completed as soon as possible. Throughout the day on Thursday, the Director was responsive to AFGE Local 1812 representatives, answering union concerns promptly and expeditiously.

Also on Thursday, non-emergency employees were granted administrative leave. It was decided that all emergency employees would only have to stay until all their essential work was completed and then would be granted administrative leave in order to get home in time to be with their families and to prepare their homes for the hurricane. Most, if not all, were granted administrative leave by 2:00pm that day.

Moreover, an emergency contact phone number for the employees was set up so employees could call in for updates. Employees were instructed to check the emergency number to see when they should report back to work.

Thankfully, Hurricane Matthew did not wreak much havoc in Miami and its environs (unlike our fellow employees in Greenville, N.C.). But Radio/TV Marti was prepared for the threat and a potential worst case scenario and we appreciate that.


Another F for a Bottom Feeder Agency

Original post, October 18, 2016

“The Broadcasting Board of Governors, another regular bottom-feeder that oversees the Voice of America and other government broadcasters, also scored 56. But unlike DHS, BBG is going backward.”

That quote is from Washington Post federal affairs writer, Joe Davidson’s September 20, 2016 article. The story focused on the Department of Homeland Security and that agency’s results in the latest OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Yet, it seems that the BBG’s reputation is so bad that Mr. Davidson couldn’t help but take a swipe and add a sentence or two about it.


After a slight uptick in last year’s results, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)’s results in the latest annual federal OPM employee engagement survey have tanked again. One might have thought that with new Directors, the Voice of America (VOA) and the BBG would pull better, not worse, responses. Why the dismal numbers?

AFGE Local 1812 has some ideas.

But first, some background. About a year ago, a number of controversial managers were pushed out. The Office of Personnel at the Agency got a new leader. An allegedly abusive English-language newsroom higher-up was reassigned. The former General Counsel whose tenure and legal advice were considered by many to be on the cloudy side, had left the Agency. For just a little while, employees dared to dream that perhaps improvements were coming down the pike. That may explain the slight uptick in the Agency’s rating last year.

What happened subsequently was a classic example of the “business as usual” modus operandi. It didn’t take long for the entrenched bureaucracy to swoop in and isolate the new Directors and reaffirm its stranglehold on the Agency. Bureaucrats are renowned experts in sidelining new political appointees and their minions and convincing them to allow “those that know how” to run things and allow the appointees to “concentrate on more important things.” Today, when employees look at the top of the present bureaucratic Valhalla, they see many of the same old tired faces, the same stifling policies, the same hostile workplace, the same resistance to doing things a bit differently. Day after day, in what used to be one of the most challenging and exciting places to work in the federal government, rank-and-file employees trudge in, determined to do the best they can in spite of the dreary, out-of-touch management who seem to be eternally busy at their computers writing endless memos about how great the Agency is while in reality, the OPM Employee Viewpoint Survey tells quite a different story.

Instead of treating the disease, management continues to dip into its bureaucratic band-aid box by treating only the symptoms and not the underlying malaise, while it continues pursuing management strategies that have clearly failed. Why would the new Directors take advice from these people?

So what do we get? Well, there’s more “training” , more “consultation panels”, more investigative committees about what ails the Agency which in no way will help our mission to move forward. By so doing, the Agency spins around in a macabre circular motion like a doomed whirling carousel to Nowhere.

Does AFGE Local 1812 have all the answers? No. But we have heard sound advice from many of our rank-and-file members who tell us that as a starter, 1) the VOA Newsroom, once one of the top ones in the world, needs to regain its global reputation as a solid, reliable source of news. How to do that? A good beginning would be for management to sit down with employees in a good-faith effort to hammer out some practical solutions. 2) Rank-and-file also stress that the VOA Language services should never have been abandoned to their own devices and that there needs to be a radical turn-around so that the VOA will again be one voice speaking in many languages instead of 40 different VOAs babbling in a modern-day broadcasting version of the Tower of Babel. 3) Although highly-advanced technologies that work well in industrialized countries are becoming increasingly important in international communications, employees stress that older technologies like the much-maligned shortwave radio are still important for fast-growing marginal populations with little or no electricity in less developed countries which are efficiently targeted by extremists. 4) Concentrating, as we did in the past, on Americana reports and features that present a balanced picture of what we are as a nation and a society because that’s an important part of our mission.

Following the example of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company which met with its front-line people when it was facing bankruptcy to find out what went wrong, maybe it’s time for less of the top-down management style in our Agency and more of the “from the bottom-up” open and frank and direct conversations with the rank-and-file without the filter of the entrenched bureaucracy. As the woeful recipients of the “bottom feeder” and “worst place to work in the federal government” monikers, what do the new Directors have to lose?

Does the BBG Enjoy Flouting the Law?

Original post, September 12, 2016.

After years of litigation and many thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money expended on legal fees, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) seems to be intent on flouting the very law with which it said, in 2015, it would comply. We refer here to the provision of the Smith-Mundt Act that gives priority to employing qualified United States citizens for jobs and promotions over non-U.S. citizens. As it should be.

After some nine years of litigation, during which time the Agency refused to comply with the law – the BBG was informed by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) – the independent agency of the United States government that governs labor relations between the federal government and its employees – that it would have to comply with an Arbitrator’s ruling that mandated that the Agency complies with the Smith-Mundt Act.

According to Arbitrator Marshall, qualified U.S. citizens unlawfully deprived of jobs and promotions in favor of foreign aliens were supposed to be compensated and the hiring of foreign aliens over qualified U.S. citizens was supposed to stop. For a short time, the Agency did follow the mandate and complied with the arbitrator’s award but recently there has been a spate of violations. At the end of this article, see the list of broadcasting positions recently posted by the Agency which graphically show that the agency apparently has again begun defying the law as well as the arbitrator’s decision.

The Arbitrator’s decision stated that U.S. citizens illegally bypassed for promotions and jobs with the Agency must be compensated. As of yet, compensation has not happened. The arbitrator also ruled that the Agency must comply with the law by issuing vacancies first to U.S. citizens and if no qualified U.S. citizen was found to be qualified, the Agency could then open the vacancy to U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens. If after opening the vacancy to both, a U.S. citizen was found to be qualified the U.S. citizen would have to be hired.

After raising these issues with the Agency during the past year – in vain – the Union is now forced to alert the Arbitrator of these violations. Meanwhile, the tab keeps running for the U.S. taxpayers. It will cost more to settle these issues in a year – or in two years time – whatever time the BBG wishes to take, since the individual Agency officials know they are protected from personal liability for these delays and therefore have no urgent motive to care.

These delaying tactics are nothing new, but have been shown to have disastrous consequences for U.S. taxpayers. That’s how, in 2001, the U.S. government ended up paying some 500 million dollars to some 1,100 women illegally discriminated against by the Agency – after decades of litigation.

Agency managers have argued over the years that the hiring of foreign aliens over U.S. citizens was necessary to maintain programming quality. However, they are unable to explain why the wronged U.S. citizens were found QUALIFIED for the positions they were illegally turned down for. They were found QUALIFIED by the very same Agency that subsequently turned around and stated that only a non-U.S. citizen would do.

With the hiring of a new CEO, the BBG is trying mightily to have employees believe that it has turned a new page that better days are ahead. We are not as yet convinced. On the contrary, with yet another instance of ignoring an Arbitrator’s decision, it looks as if its business as usual at this Agency that continues to flout the law while at the same time touting the rule of law in its broadcasts to the world.

Here are the recently-posted broadcasting positions at the Agency referenced above that were simultaneously advertised to U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens alike apparently without opening the positions first to U.S citizens only:

1) International Broadcaster (Multimedia) (Kirundi/Kinyarwanda); Citizen Announcement No. DE-16-148, Non-citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9148;

2) International Broadcaster (TV/Online)(Russian); Citizen Announcement No. DE-16-147, Non-citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9147;

3) International Broadcaster (Multimedia) (Somali); Citizen Announcement No. DE-16-144, Non-citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9144;

4) International Broadcaster (Multimedia) (Urdu); Citizen Announcement No. DE-16-143, Non-citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9151;

5) International Broadcaster (Digital Media) (Indonesian); Citizen Announcement No. DE-16-154, Non-citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9154.

In addition, the BBG has issued an announcement for an Audience Engagement Coordinator (Pashto) Non-Citizen Announcement No. NC-16-9152.

Agency Managers Still Don’t Get It

Original post, August 15, 2016

In 2001, the United States government paid some 500 million dollars in compensation to over 1,100 women who alleged they were discriminated against by the Agency. The landmark case, Hartman v. Albright, is to this day the second-largest, costliest settlement payment inflicted on U.S. taxpayers by government management employees some of whom apparently feel immune to any legal prosecution for prohibited personnel practices because of their public employee status, and thus apparently feel free to engage in behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated in the workplace whether at a federal agency or in the private sector.

A recent example was the situation with a top Fox News executive who resigned in the wake of multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior and workplace comments to a number of female employees of the network. Also quite recently, there was a commentary published by Glamor magazine, in which U.S. President Barack Obama noted that he’s “been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face — it’s what has shaped my own feminism”, while alluding to “the stereotypes” pervading our society. “It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.”

It looks as if some Voice of America managers would benefit from pondering the above examples to avoid creating what may be perceived as a hostile workplace environment. In addition, judging by some recent reports, AFGE Local 1812 believes that it may be time for a refresher course in EEO principles for VOA managers regarding what kind of behavior could be classified as a hostile workplace environment.

To be more specific, AFGE Local 1812 recently received some anecdotal information about a possible incident of inappropriate behavior on the part of a management official in a VOA language service. Our sources report that at a staff meeting, a language service chief allegedly described a “vivid” dream he had about a pregnant staffer during which the manager pointed out in some detail that he was not clothed. Regrettably, people say it was not the first time said service chief had engaged in offensive sexual innuendo in a public meeting.

Reporting such conduct to the appropriate officials presents a problem for the employees because this action may result in retaliation against the employee who reports the conduct. Many in the Agency believe this would be the result. This might help explain why, at the same time upper management claims to be making strides in improving the Agency’s culture, morale among rank-and-file remains firmly anchored at rock-bottom. Any allegations of untoward speech or behavior on the part of managers, especially if done publicly at staff meetings, must be promptly investigated and, if substantiated, appropriate action taken, whether by providing appropriate counseling and training or more serious action if it is deemed to be an ongoing problem.

We at AFGE Local 1812 call on the VOA Director not only to provide mandatory refresher courses on sexual harassment and the meaning of a hostile workplace for the benefit of Agency managers under her supervision – training they would be required to take seriously – as well as to to ensure a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding such inappropriate behavior. There is no reason why VOA, which is tasked, among other things, with promoting American values and universal human rights to a global audience, should stay anchored in a mentality vividly portrayed in the award-winning “Mad Men” TV series of a few years ago.

Moving Forward, VOA Haunted by Its Past

Original post, July 16, 2016

It’s a new day at VOA, with new leadership – from the outside world, no less, which has created a glimmer of new hope, albeit guarded.

How many management teams has VOA had over the years? It’s hard to keep count. But each comes in with bright ideas and new ways of reinventing the wheel their predecessors tried to reinvent – and failed, leaving the agency worse for wear than when they inherited it.

Here’s the thing: You get a brand new leadership team, forward-looking, with experience from the world outside VOA. And then what happens? Those that inform the new team are the managers whose failed experiments have put VOA at the bleak crossroads where it stands today.

Today’s VOA is uncertain. It wants to be free, but cannot proceed without a Congressional nod. It wants to be digital but is tangled up in the red tape of its past. It wants to be a digital presence but is held back by so many barriers that it is at a standstill.

VOA has so much talent and potential it is dizzying to think how undersold and misappropriated these talents are. It is not that they are not appreciated. It is that they are taxed to exhaustion. There are never enough bodies to do the job; meaning those that are tackling all that needs to be done are burned out rather quickly. This is not to say they are overworked, but that there are countless job positions that have been abandoned or left unfilled over the years that the staff cannot keep up with adequately producing the product.

Over the past decade, it was management positions that got filled, often with higher grades. VOA carves into the underbelly almost to the bone; and piles on the fat at the top. That’s the way it has been for many years now. In this situation, people have given up hope on change because change just doesn’t happen. It just recycles past failures and creates new ones. It is as if VOA is cursed with bad managers and bad decisions that trigger a domino effect, leading to even more bad decisions.

It is important to note that an ill-advised appointment or a bad decision in an agency of this size and with the kind of mission it has invariably makes the job of any new management team that much more difficult.

On top of this, failed managers don’t get booted out; they get promoted. And if they’re lucky, then a few years down the road, they will get reassigned to wreak havoc on a new division. And the cycle goes on.

VOA employees are proud of their work; and they want to do a good job even without badly-needed resources because they love their jobs. But there is a huge morale problem, vividly documented in the annual OPM Human Capital Survey, which is thick in the air in many parts of the agency – and is due, in large part, to bad management decisions.

Perhaps there is hope that the new management team might still save VOA from itself. But how well are they informed? And by whom?

In his Essay on Man, poet Alexander Pope coined the proverb: “Hope springs eternal” which some have interpreted as meaning that people will keep on hoping, no matter what the odds.

If, however, our modus operandi persists in reflecting the words of Albert Einstein: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we are certainly doomed.