As we wind down the FY, here is an update on a number of matters.
Federal Legislative Update
—FY 2018 Federal Budget and USPTO Operations
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.
—Attacks on Federal Retirement Benefits
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.
—2018 Pay Raise
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.
Other Issues on the Hill
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.
Peer Recognition Program
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.
Voluntary Leave Bank Program (VLBP)
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.
TPAC and PPAC
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.
Time and Attendance and Record Sharing Platform
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.
Appeal of Final FY 2017 Rating
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.