Chapter 66 Podcast Ep 1 Transcript

Chapter 66 Podcast, Episode One.

Daniel

Hi everybody. I’m Daniel. This is the first episode of the nteu chapter 66 podcast, and I’m just going to introduce myself. My name is Daniel Scharpenburg. I am the first vice president of chapter 66. I have been volunteering with the union for just over two years and I have been an IRS employee for 12 years. I lead the communications committee and I work on the legislative committee. That’s why I was brought into the Union, to serve on those two committees. Now I’ve become a steward as well, so I represent employees in grievances and other things. With me is my co-host Nikki and she just became a Union steward.

Nikki

Hello. I am Nikki and I have been with the IRS for three years. I’ve been a union member for that amount of time as well.

Daniel

All right, and Nikki is on the communications committee with me. So we have put together this podcast, really inspired by the NTEU Chapter 49 podcast which is put out by Duncan Giles who is a way more knowledgeable person than me. He puts out that podcast and people seem to really like it. So we thought we could put out our own. I already do videos and things and this is an okay thing to add. So, today we’re going to talk about some key things covid updates and Social Security and we will just see where it takes us. So I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for listening. And we will just see where this goes.

Daniel

Okay. So first we’re going to talk about social security which is maybe the least interesting of the things we’re talking about. And so Social Security at the last payday, I got a lot of messages from people saying hey my paid some version of “Hey, my paycheck is really small. I think they took out too much.” And I thought that myself. We had none taken out the last eight pay periods of 2020. So that’s 16 weeks. We had no social security taken out and I think everybody knows that by now so our paychecks were a little bit bigger, but we have to repay that this year and a law was passed to say that we have 26 pay periods to pay it. We didn’t ask for this and we didn’t want it, but that’s where we are. And I did try to explain it. Math can be hard to understand for many of us.

But you can figure out what your repayments should be. By looking at an old pay stub of regular pay with no overtime and taking that Social Security withholding and multiplying that by eight to see the total amount and then you can divide that by 26 to see how much it should be per paycheck. But of course the problem is if we work to any overtime then we had more Social Security withheld, so the formula can work to get you in the range of it, but you can’t actually know your exact amount.

What I calculated by doing the formula was $12 off. That tells me that $12 is probably from my overtime. As far as I can tell everyone is having the correct amount withheld for their social security. I have asked people to bring information to me and I have found no cases where someone’s overpaying so far. I have I found one where I really thought they might be but on further inspection I really don’t think they are.

The thing people have been really worried about and is our next paycheck. We’re getting a one percent raise, but we’re also getting more taken out for health insurance. So our next paycheck, I don’t know what it’s going to look like but It’s not going to be what we expect because of those changes and the Social Security as well. So we just have to kind of weather the storm and try to get through this. Someone asked me though. Someone said to me, “Hey, I’m quitting the agency. How am I going to pay this back?” My guess is that a bill will be sent to you. I don’t know that for sure. I don’t think the agency has a plan for this. But if they do they’re not sharing it. So I don’t know and people have also asked things like, “I would really love to pay this all up front because I don’t like having my paychecks be smaller” I understand that I’m sympathetic to that. As far as I can tell the agency does not have any plan in place to give you that opportunity. We are asking those kinds of questions because we would really like to give various options. Again. This is the thing we didn’t ask for it’s a thing we didn’t want really because it didn’t I mean if you have to pay it back, it really doesn’t help you that much right? So that’s the position we’re in right now. Is is there a chance that something will happen and the Social Security will be somehow forgiven and we don’t have to pay it back. I don’t know. I think the new Congress has a lot going on. So I don’t know if that’s going to be addressed or not. So that’s what I have to say about social security and I imagine building off that that they also might consider if somebody does leave the agency.

Nikki

They might be taxing that onto their don’t want to say their 2021 taxes… No. Yeah, they’re 2021 taxes instead of sending them a bill. But like you said, we don’t know anything big something like that could be done.

Daniel

My sense is a law would have to be written for really anything but sending you a bill, but that being said a lot like that could be written because people are leaving the agency, right especially people that are afraid to come back into this building and other IRS buildings are leaving the agency, retiring early or quitting, which we’ll get to that in the covid section of this episode. There may be many many people who are in that position where they owe this money to Social Security and it can’t be taken from my paychecks because they’re not getting those anymore. And we’ll have to really keep an eye out and pay attention and see what happens with that.

I think we can move on to the covid update now. I look forward to some point in the future where my job isn’t mostly dealing with covid situations. But right now I’m going to talk about the covid vaccine. People ask a lot of questions about it. So I think we need to discuss it here. So first of all, there is information on IR web about this and I encourage everyone that has IRS computer access to go to IR web and go to The Orange Box on the right side and click that and just read everything because there is a lot of information there. I believed these things I’m going to tell you and I was able to look on IR web and confirm that I was correct. These things are as follows:

One our agency is not going to have the vaccine. What I mean by that is it’s not going to be like getting a flu shot every year which you can just go to the nurse’s office and get one in three minutes. We’re not going to have that situation with the covid vaccine in our medical facility. Our health unit is not equipped to house thousands of thousands of doses of the covid vaccine. I don’t think it’s equipped house any actually but it’s definitely not equipped with house thousands because they have to be kept very cold and then they have to be warmed in a very specific way and our health unit is probably not up to that without a serious upgrade. There’s no way they even could do it. The agency has said we’re not going to have the vaccine given on-site period. So if you hear a rumor that we’re going to have it on site that is someone engaging in wishful thinking .

Another question about the vaccine that gets asked is: will we be required to get it ?

The answer to that is no. You will not be required to get it. Just like we’re not required to get flu shots, we are not going to be required to get the covid vaccine. I know that in many ways our agency is like the United States. By that I mean some people really want the vaccine and some people really do not want the vaccine. That’s the situation and I’m not judging either point of view, but we’re not going to be forced to get it in our agency. One exception may be people that have face to face contact with taxpayers, but that’s not a common function of the Kansas City Campus, so not really something for us to worry about. They there may be something where they’re strongly encouraged to take it. You may get emails saying “Remember to get your covid vaccine,” but that will be the end of it.

And then the third thing is will someone asked “Will we get time to go get a covid vaccine? will we get admin time?” The answer to that is no, we will not get admin time to go get a covid vaccine. You’re going to have to do it either take time off or do it outside of your work hours. Just like any other medical thing. You’re not going to get admin time. You could potentially use sick leave because it is a medical appointment. That’s it.

Moving on: I have looked at the the various descriptions of the tiers, people getting the covid vaccine and if you don’t know what that is, it’s 1a is people in nursing homes, they’re getting the vaccine first. 1B is medical personnel or something like that and they’re getting the vaccine second.

The agency, as far as I know, has not put anything out about getting us a special spot in line. My brother works at the VA and he you know, he’s public-facing in a medical profession. He got the covid vaccine already. Will we get it early? That’s a question. A lot of people are asking, especially people are saying “if we’re if we’re essential and we have to come into the building to work, can we get the vaccine early?” At first I was going to say no. I was going to say, “No we’re tier 3. We’re going to get it when everyone is allowed to get it.” But I’m looking at this list. It looks like tier 2 includes financial services and that could include us. It could include the Department of Treasury from my research. I’m going to do further research to find out but it seems like we may get it before it’s available to the general public. I have put myself on a list in Platte County, which is where I live. I put myself on a list to get notified when I’m allowed to get the vaccine and when I put myself on that I did a questionnaire that asked me where I work, what I do for a living, my age, any health conditions, etc, etc. And so I would encourage everyone that wants the vaccine to go to your County’s website. They should have a questionnaire there for you and you can get notified. I’m hoping the agency will put something out to declare that we’re tier 2 which would mean we get it before everyone but there is nothing in place right now. There’s no guarantee of that at all. I’m certain we’re not tier 1A or 1B. So we are not in the same group as people in nursing homes, medical professionals Etc. We’re not in the same group as them. But if we’re lucky we’ll be included as a financial service. So that’s it on the vaccine.

Nikki

Now, we are moving onto covid leave. We are actually no longer allowed to have the 80 hours of covid leave that we were offered when we came back in June. So that has currently been taken away. We are hoping for something will change as we new transition from the Trump Administration to the Biden administration. We don’t know exactly at this very moment what will happen but we will make sure to keep you guys in the loop and aware of what will happen. So as of right now your options for if you happen to catch the covid and have to take time you could request to take leave without pay or LWOP or use your own time if you have any time built up.

Daniel

I know somebody who did their first week of covid leave happened to be December 23rd, so they were right in that cut off. So they only got one week of covid leave and had to use their sick leave for the second week. If you get covid the agency’s not giving you admin time you have to use your leave and we are encouraging the agency and encouraging representatives to give us back the 80 hours because right now I worry that someone Is going to get covid and they’re not going to have the leave to cover it and they’re just going to come to work.

Nikki

I have a co-worker. He’s up in my area and he has said that his boss was offering him Advanced sick leave and I am not 100% on what that is. I’ve never had to use something like that. So I’ve from what I understand that might also be an option as well. It’s just something to discuss with your boss

Daniel

Yeah, Advance sick leave is something that is mostly up to manager discretion. So that means some people may be given that in some people may not but it is the case that you have to ask for it to be considered, sometimes your managers not going to tell you all of your options. So if you have no leave and you get covid ask your manager about Advanced sick leave, I always encourage people to save up their leave and not do what we call earning and burning. I know some people have serious medical issues or childcare issues or whatever else and they have to burn through their leave a lot. But I encourage people to save up their leave if they’re able tp/ I generally have a positive view of human nature and I know many people don’t. I’m generally an optimist. So I tend to think “no people aren’t coming to work with covid,” but it’s a real problem if somebody comes to work with covid and they just work through their day. That scares me. So I want that 80 hours to be available so that if there’s someone that has covid that really doesn’t care about other people, they could still stay home and be paid. It sort of feels weird saying that but please stay home If you get covid. I wish I didn’t feel like I had to say that but it if you have covid please stay home for two weeks, it’s really a good thing for all your co-workers and your managers and your friends

Nikki

Building off that if you feel like you have any of the symptoms go get tested. I’m someone who doesn’t always like to run to the doctors, so I understand. This is for the safety of others because I know there are a lot of people in the building that is over 65 and with medical conditions, please for their sake go get tested because you might have it and not even know it. You might think you might have a cold or a flu. It’s easier to be safe than sorry.

Daniel

Right and these days it’s easy. I I think in the beginning it was harder to get a covid test. But now that you can get drive through covid testing at CVS and it takes 2 seconds, it’s really easy now. So if you’re feeling sick go get a covid test, it’s free, fast, and easy.

Daniel

So now we’re going to talk about weather and safety leave. Weather and safety leave people are getting called back people. Many many people have been asked to return February first.

Nikki

It’s January 31st for night shift and February 1st for day shift.

Daniel

Yes. For those people that work Sundays, the day of return will be January 31. People are being told they have to come back and this took the Union by surprise. We weren’t told that the agency was calling people back. We literally found out because panicked employees started reaching out to us. So we have been told that social distancing will still happen and that people will be forced to wear their masks. I hope that’s true because I am worried. That being said I do want to express this. There was a period, I don’t know how long ago it was, but you may remember this a guard or someone working in the guard area had covid and the announcement came out. That week was same week that a bunch of people on safety leave had to come in and get laptops. And so like two dozen people on safety leave came through the Guard Station and may have been exposed. I was very panicked about that because I thought these people with these conditions were here at exactly the wrong time, right? And now I realize it was early or mid December. I realize that because I speculated that the person may have gotten it at Thanksgiving.

But anyway, I was sort of panicked so I reached out and I got as many of those people as I could to contact me and tell me they were there. I asked them to let me know if they got sick. None of them got covid. So that made me think I was a little too worried. I might have scared people that didn’t need to be scared.

So that just makes me think, are keeping getting this in the building? I don’t know. That incident makes me think that distancing is working and masks are working. We’re nervous because people are being brought back with no distinction, but if the things in place are working, maybe we’re okay. What do I mean by no distinction? I mean if you’re on WSL because you have a minor breathing problem, you’re not being treated differently than someone on WSL because they have cancer. There’s no distinction there, if they’ve decided they don’t want you to telework, you have to come back. A lot of people reach out and ask if a more serious doctor’s note will help them and I tell them no. The options people have to stay out of the building are limited.

So you can ask for a reasonable accommodation to work from home. You can ask to start using your annual leave and sick leave which people that have been on safety leave this whole time probably have a lot of leave they’ve built up. You can ask to start using that. If your seasonal you can ask to go to non-work status and then failing all those things you can always ask for leave without pay. It’s not to say it’ll get approved. These are all subject to manager approval. But those are the things you can you can try.

People are panicked. We’ve had over a hundred covid cases in here now, but that being said if people are doing what they need to do we can be a little safer. The truth is it’s easy to catch covid a lot of places. I think the number one concern about covid in this building is just that upper management is not forthcoming about information. I feel like convincing people the building is safe is almost as important is actually making it safe. So even if they’re doing everything right to make the people safe, they don’t seem to be doing anything to convince the employees they’re safe. That’s really important because employees that feel safe do better work and not only that but the agency’s going to lose some good people because people are going to quit if they think this building is scary.

So it’s really bad for the agency and it’s bad for a person’s well-being to just be worried about covid all the time. It is really bad for morale and so it has been my position that the agency really needs to do something to try to convince the people that they’re safe, just a little effort would go a long way.

It feels like they’re not trying to convince people that the building is safe and that I think they have a big opportunity to try to do that. If they did that it would seem like they care.

Nikki

Now we’re going to move on to social distancing, everybody’s favorite. Llama space, that’s what I like to call it. We really don’t know exactly how the setup will go when it comes to everybody coming back on the 31st and 1st. We have heard people say that we’re going to be sharing desks in some areas between day and night shift. We don’t exactly know what is exactly going on. But we are working to find out as diligently as we can. But as I will, you know put this out there. Please make sure you’re following the arrows and make sure you keep that six foot distance between each other other. If you look at the floor tiles, I know for the pennway building the floor tiles are actually about two feet apart. And if you look at three of those it will make your six feet. So just think three tiles apart for each person. So that will cover your six feet distance anything to build on that Daniel?

Daniel

So that yeah that applies to anywhere with the big carpet squares. Look down. If you’re in an area with those you know what I mean. Also I want to add to that please wear your mask properly.

Nikki

I know that masks aren’t fun. they’re not my favorite thing to wear. But at the same time cover your nose.

Daniel

Yes, I have I have discovered that I really hate talking with a mask on so when I’m wearing a mask, I suddenly become like a really quiet person, which I was a very quiet person as a kid. So I feel like a kid again. So yeah, it’s a pain, but hopefully we’ll get get used to it because I think masks are going

to be with us for a very long time.

Nikki

It is definitely in the foreseeable future.

Daniel

I have witnessed. I walked the floor and I saw one area where it really looks like day and night shift are sharing desks. John on our Communications committee told me to look for that and I saw it. It really looks like there’s an area sharing desks. We want to know how extensive this is. So if you see evidence that someone sharing your desk. Let us know you can send me an email. It’s Daniel@nteuchapter66.org and we’ll put that in the show notes here, but send me an email and tell me. When I looked around I saw only one area where I had questions about the distancing, but of course a lot of people are coming back. We’ll have to monitor this closely.

Daniel

Finally, I’m going to talk about Lori Mings. She’s the field director of SP and all these covid announcements come from her office. I have offered her the chance to come on to this podcast and be interviewed by me. I don’t think she’ll take that opportunity, but I’ve offered it to her because I do want the agency to do something to put out their message. Our platform would be a good place to do it because I think we, the union, are more trusted at times than the agency is. So I have put that offer out there. We would love to interview Lori Ming’s and ask her questions about safety in the building because again, it feels unsafe to a lot of people. Some people in this building feel perfectly safe and that’s fine. But other people just come in and they’re panicked all the time and that’s not good for anyone.

I am hoping that Lori Mings will be willing to be interviewed by me. I don’t know that she’s really making any decisions but she’s the person that is putting out these covid announcements, the person that is in charge. I think things must be pretty stressful for her. I don’t think she wants people to curse the name of Lori Mings and to blame her for what they perceive as making an unsafe environment. And I’ll be very clear. I think most of those hundred plus cases in our building did not catch the virus here. I can’t say that for sure. We do not have nearly enough evidence to say that for sure. But my sense is that many many people are getting it other places and just coming to work. February 1st more people are coming into the building and we are working hard to monitor the social distancing and to see if people are going to be seated six feet apart from everyone.

Lastly if you’ve are on weather and safety leave and you have been asked to resign send me an email and tell me your situation. I don’t think there’s a lot of that happening, but we want to be aware of and prepared for that. But our final note is if you see social distancing not happening say something to your manager. If you see people not wearing their masks properly say something to your manager. The thing is people have expectations. People think “the union will do something about that.” And the truth is the union does not go after employees. So if somebody on your team is like getting really close to other people or not wearing a mask that is an issue for your manager that being said, said though, if your a manager doesn’t address that, then we can act to go after that manager to have a conversation with them. Your manager has a duty to act to try to protect you and if they’re not doing that duty then that could be a case for the union. If you see something, say something. Also, please try to follow the arrows if your area has arrows.. These arrows are a little confusing and there are places in this building where you have to walk very far to follow the arrows and get out. But I would ask you to please do that. I know it’s a pain and it’s hard and confusing at times, but I would ask you to please try to follow the arrows when you can and I think that’s about it. All right. So this has been the first episode of the nteu chapter 66 podcast.

Nikki

And for you guys we will post the links that we find for like the locations of the covid vaccines where to get it. I think John has already posted where to find the vaccine here in the Different counties, but we will also post these in the show notes for this podcast and along with Daniel’s email and the phone number for the union.

Daniel

Thank you so much for listening and have a great day.


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