Centers of Excellence and Expertise (Centers) Negotiations

During two weeks of negotiations focusing on the Centers, CBP Center management continues to dismiss identified Center problems that have been raised by employees and their managers alike, while resisting to put in place a meaningful Bid Rotation and Placement process for Import Specialists similar to the one in place for CBP Officers. 


NTEU has just completed two weeks of negotiations over the Centers and, unfortunately, very little progress was made in this round of negotiations.


At the table, NTEU raised numerous problems associated with the Centers that included: issues associated with remote supervision; the inability of ACE to support the Center initiative, resulting in wasteful inefficient work-around practices; a lack of uniformity between the Centers in terms of workload and work practices; managers either ignoring or unaware of local agreements addressing subjects such as AWS, leave, and telework; catering to the trade at the expense of revenue recovery; employees having to take direction from  supervisors within and outside their chain of command; lack of clear guidance as to what is Center work and what is port work; and, insufficient training for both employees and supervisors.


In response, CBP denied that there were any major problems associated with the rollout of the Centers while also stating that if there were, future ACE releases would take care of the problems.  Of course, Customs and CBP employees have been waiting decades for ACE to operate as promised.  Rather than waiting for ACE to fix Center problems sometime in the indefinite future, NTEU pointed out that many of these problems could be eliminated or at least mitigated by more onsite supervision.  Because CBP’s position is that the Centers are working well, it showed no interest in revisiting any Center issue, including remote supervision.  Instead, Center management took the position that employees and their supervisors are misguided about their criticism of the Centers.


Not only was CBP uninterested in addressing the adverse impact of its operational decisions on Center employees, its resistance to a meaningful BRP process for Import Specialists lends credence to the widespread view that non-uniformed employee issues are not a priority for CBP.  For example, while CBP has agreed that the BRP process for Officers in the new contract will allow for, at a minimum, a 50% rotation in and out of their work units, CBP would only agree to rotate 0% to 25% of the Import Specialists working in a Center’s three work units/divisions.  Similarly, Center management refused to even consider a BRP process that would enable Import Specialists to rotate between Centers even though Import Specialists have been working different parts of the tariff for years.  Instead, CBP proposed that when there is a Center vacancy, Import Specialists could apply to fill the vacancy, even though in many cases the selected Import Specialist would have to re-locate to a different port in order to work in a different Center.   


When pressed on why Import Specialists do not deserve the same meaningful BRP as the uniformed workforce, Center management gave two reasons: 

1) a BRP process may bump some Import Specialists from their current Center assignments

2) time-zone coverage issues arising from the Center structure and remote supervision. 


In terms of BRP qualifications, while OFO considers its Officers sufficiently qualified to work in most work units once they have completed FLETC and post-academy training, the Centers refuse to acknowledge that even Journeyman, and Senior Import Specialists are qualified to work in all three Center divisions.  Similarly, CBP’s Center representatives argued that Journeyman and Senior Import Specialists were also not necessarily qualified to work in all ten Centers.  When NTEU pointed out that by the time an Import Specialist becomes a Journeyman or a Senior Import Specialist their classification, value, and admissibility skill sets make them qualified to work in any Center, CBP responded that the focus of qualifications should be on a Center industry and not on the traditional Import Specialist skill set.


NTEU has requested mediation assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in these negotiations.  Because the host of problems associated with the Centers are a direct outcome of how CBP has exercised its management rights, NTEU will also continue to raise these issues with senior CBP leadership, urging them to reevaluate the Center structure and its unwarranted detrimental impact on employee interests. 


On a final note, whereas CBP Officers received their deserved upgrades to a GS-11 and then a GS-12 based on an executive decision of senior CBP leadership, CBP still insists that Import Specialists must first go through a classification review before it will consider upgrading their position.  Nevertheless, NTEU expects to trigger the Import Specialist grade review sometime this calendar year, assuming the Centers are fully functional and there is enough ACE functionality to support an upgrade to a journeyman GS-12.  NTEU will follow the same approach as other positions are transitioned to the Centers.


Please continue to report your views on the Centers and these negotiations to NTEU.

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© 2016 by National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 137, Miami, FL


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