Saul and Black have also run roughshod over SSA staff, leading Melissa McIntosh, president of the union representing the agency’s administrative law judges, to say they “have engaged in no-holds-barred union busting.” That includes “allegedly flouting contractual rights, discriminating against employees for protected union activities and denying unions information they have a right to receive.” Back in December, Association of Administrative Law Judges and the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals (Council 220) declared “no confidence” in SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black, and demanded their ouster. The council’s executive committees finding of “no confidence” was “unprecedented” according to a union statement, the result of “years of mismanagement and poor leadership.”
“The vote is also an admonition of their handling of the remote work program, the lack of open communication with SSA employees amid a global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, and the absence of a clear vision for SSA,” the union said. Those charges start back in 2019, when Saul cancelled a popular teleworking program, saying that “A time of workload crisis is not the time to experiment with working at home,” citing the long wait times Social Security claimants face. While Saul was ending that program, he himself refused to show up at work in the SSA’s Baltimore headquarters. Ralph de Juliis, president of the AFGE Council 220 said that employees were told he was “spending his time in New York because that’s where he’s from” to explain his absence. So he got to work from home while staff no longer could.
It turns out he wasn’t really working from home, either, de Juliis told HuffPost. The SSA uses Skype for internal communication, and was doing so pre-pandemic. According to Skype screenshots de Juliis shared with HuffPost, at one point last year Saul didn’t even bother to log in to the program. There was a period in January 2020 when his account had been inactive for 67 days. “We really think Biden should find new people to run the Social Security Administration, who haven’t made it a point to be bad and horrible to employees and the union,” de Juliis said.
Democrats, including Senate chair of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Sherrod Brown, have been demanding that President Biden immediately fire and replace Saul and Black, calls that started pretty much immediately after the election. The two are “incapable of carrying out Democrats’ vision of protecting and expanding Social Security,” Brown said in his first statement as chair. “As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration’s employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Brown, pointing to the slew of regulations SSA pursued during Trump’s four years in office.
Key House Ways and Means Committee members have joined in on those calls. In a joint statement, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson of Connecticut, Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis of Illinois, and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, issued a statement calling on Biden to demand resignations from Saul and Black, or to fire them. “Andrew Saul has aggressively advanced a range of anti-beneficiary and anti-employee policies at the Social Security Administration that threaten grievous harm to vulnerable Americans,” the Democrats said. “Mr. Saul and his deputy, David Black, have pushed substantial cuts to Social Security. They have also engaged in aggressive anti-union activities and terminated telework for thousands of employees in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The two can be fired by Biden for cause, even though Saul’s term is supposed to end in 2025. There’s certainly the appearance of ample cause for booting them, especially in the allegations the inspector general is investigating, that they’ve been pressuring judges to reduce disability approvals. There’s Supreme Court precedent for their firing, since the court handed down Seila Law v. CFPB last year, which struck down a federal law barring the president from firing directors of independent agencies over political disagreements. There are just two other independent agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that have a single director—Social Security and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Which means Biden can oust Saul regardless of when his term is supposed to be up, and do it legally.