POPA Annual Meeting Minutes December 2, 2015
Welcome and State of Union (Pam Schwartz, Vice President)
The POPA President, Robert Budens and Assistant Secretary, Pat Duffy are not able to attend the meeting today.
Discussion of Quality Initiatives and Work Schedule Notification (Pam)
The Agency has set forth 3 pillars for quality initiatives: Excellence in work product, customer service, and measuring. Details are emerging about the quality initiatives and POPA has concerns regarding how these initiatives are moving forward.
- Clarity of the Record Pilot
- Pilot only deals with what the examiner can do to clarify the record - Initially pilot was seen as a joint responsibility between applicants and the Office.
- Requires pilot participants to receive training on how to add additional detailed explanation to their office actions.
- Management is limiting the time available to examiners for adding explanation to the office action.
- Training is being developed quickly so that most of it will most likely be a rehash of prior training sessions.
POPA would like to see management take the time to develop improved training materials and allow examiners to determine the time these additional quality functions take to perform.
- Revamping of AFCP and pre-appeal
- Management would like to open up more opportunities for prosecution after final rejection.
- Concerned about the compensation examiners will receive if management goes through with these changes - real examining time being taken away in the name of customer service
POPA Proposed Pillars of Quality
- Many examiners need more time to do their jobs properly now due to the growth of available prior art and technical complexity
- Review these areas and provide more time for examination
- Improved Training
- Provide indexed collection of all the training and slide sets
- Training slides will be turned into an outline format that is carefully indexed and searchable
- Remove Distractions From Examiner’s Work Day
- Assist examiners with burdensome processes like the processing of Terminal Disclaimers and Docket Management adjustments, transfers, arrangement of appeal and pre-appeal.
- Anything that impedes examiners’ core function should be taken away – it is not a core function to respond to your SPE who is checking up on you several times a day. SPE checking with you every few hours is not productive.
Work Schedule Notification
Agreed on changes for hotelers to make it easier for supervisors to know when they are working. Hotelers are required to remain signed into the VPN when working, leave the presence indicator on, and give a schedule of expected hours worked for each day.
The National Academy of Public Administration was brought in by the Agency to look at the time and attendance issues and has come out with a report that included a survey of the supervisors but no survey of the examiners. Many of the suggested recommendations come from the <20% of supervisors who allege that they can’t keep track of their employees.
IG released a report that detailed a case of a single examiner, who was not a hoteler, but who was able to abuse the time and attendance rules for an extended period of time.
The Agency has not evaluated the current safeguards in place but has decided to tighten down time reporting requirements.
- The Agency wants to know when you are going to work.
- The Agency wants to require responsiveness to SPEs within approximately 2 hours.
- The Agency wants everyone to use the presence indicator.
Recently POPA worked with the Agency to come up with a proposal but we did not feel good about the results. We conducted focus sessions with about 250 -300 employees. Employee Feedback from focus sessions:
- Employees resent having to give up their workplace flexibilities due to one or two bad apples.
- The proposed changes are disruptive to their work and unprofessional.
POPA will be asking examiners for feedback on suggestions, please contact us to send us your ideas and concerns. We want to know if you have the resources you need to do your job properly, the time and the access to managerial support.
Treasurer’s Report (David Reip, Treasurer)
State of financial health is excellent. Dues paying membership increased. Operational revenue over $300,000 and $132,000 in expenditures. Switched to different bank account with no bank fees. Will be ending the year with a reserve balance which gives us a solid base of Capital Reserves. Adverse actions and attendance issues are on the rise, we may need to allocate more funds going forward, and Capital Reserves allows us to do this.
Grievance Report (Tamara Kyle)
Quality is the Agency’s number one goal. Many examiners have received numerous errors and have not beengiven time to respond. Despite this program having been created by management to improve communications, many examiners view errors as a personal attack and have responded in kind. POPA has assisted numerous examiners with these issues and provides the following guidance:
- If an allegation of error is correct, please work with your SPE to make sure you know why it is an error so that you can adjust your work to avoid future errors.
- If error is incorrect, please fight back with the Optional Clear Error Review Process.
- Download our Optional Clear Error Review Process guide with links to resources and pertinent documents.
- If SPE ignores your response entirely or responds with a one-liner then send the rebuttal to your Director.
Management has decided that errors received while on the signatory program will now be used in examiner year-end ratings. POPA feels this is double jeopardy for examiners. Examiner on the program will have well over a dozen cases picked apart by an entire panel of supervisors and QASs as opposed to the cursory review received by their co-examiners. We are in talks with management asking that they reconsider this decision.
Other Negotiations Updates (Kathy Duda, Secretary)
POPA Office Hours
POPA office hours are every Tuesday from 11am to 1pm (Eastern Time). Two POPA representatives are available for consultation. Come by the POPA office in Randolph 1D61 or by phone number x2-7162. Discuss issues at work with a POPA representative.
Detroit, Denver, San Jose, and Dallas are the regional offices which are now all opened. San Jose opened in October. Dallas opened in November and will start the first class of examiners in January.
POPA has agreements on regional offices facilities.All POPA employees anywhere are covered by the same working conditions not just Alexandria office.
Transfers to other offices, are limited since current slots are filled. Wait list available for Denver, San Jose, and Dallas. Regional offices are limited in space and expansion is not possible due to lack of space and cost. Asthe regional offices mature a determination will be made if more slots can be made available. We wouldn’t want a situation where private offices couldn’t be provided. Once slots open for transfer notification will be sent to all examiners.
50 Mile Radius Agreements are available for the Alexandria, Detroit and Denver offices. One will be available for San Jose soon and for Dallas after the first of the year.
In the last year the office, OEEOD, which handles Reasonable Accommodations (RA) has seen a doubling in requests. POPA can help you, please call a POPA representative if you would like to see if your situation could be accommodated as an RA. POPA representatives are available to help with RAs at POPA office hours.
POPA is discussing computer down time with Management. We are finishing negotiations so everyone will be treated alike with specific guidelines for what employees can do when the system goes down and compensation for downtimes.
Telework - ISP
ISP requirements had its first change this year since telework programs started. Most employees complied but some employees have not responded to email. Please comply with new ISP requirement or it could result in a disciplinary action.
Opened up more TEAPP slots, as of last week 465 slots were available for POPA members.
AADA Report (Pam)
Time and Attendance + Work Credit Abuse
Management is looking closely at all issues related to time and attendance and failures to request leave.
- Keep track of when you are working and of requesting leave up front when you need to use leave.
The agency is using computer records and equating lack of activity to not working.
- Keep a record of your time! So if you log out for the day and go to attend training in Madison just before leaving, make sure you keep a note of it. When employee relations makes a time and attendance case against an employee they go back over a year in looking for discrepancies.
- The attitude of ER is guilty until proven innocent.
- Keep records so you have a paper trail.
- Ask for leave and compensatory time upfront.
- Remember you need to meet both requirements for Production and time.
Management does not understand why everyone hasn’t taken mandatory training. They don’t understand how training requests can look alike and there are many training requests. We are starting to see letters of reprimand for not attending mandatory training.
- Please take all training assigned.
- Remember to make sure work is complete. Management motto is they can make mistakes but examiners cannot make mistakes.
- Any single case turned in incomplete may result in a work credit abuse allegation
POPA is in constant discussions with Management trying to point out where proposals are overly harsh, don’t make out a case against the employee and should be withdrawn
- Stay alert and don’t assume you can’t be subject to unfair or unwarranted treatment.
Tribute to Robert and Introduction of Ron Stern (Pam)
Robert has been with agency for 25 years, and worked tirelessly for most of those years for POPA.
Robert has been the POPA President for 10 years. When Ron Stern left I couldn’t imagine POPA without Ron but Robert stepped up. He sees everything globally and believes in the Patent system and the Patent Corps. Robert recognizes that patent protection is valuable for the applicants and the employees. He has spent the last 10 years advocating, testifying and lobbying in support of the bargaining unit, yet he always sees the big picture, that a healthy patent system is good for all of us.
During his time as POPA president, we reached numerous milestone agreements with the Agency including:
- The count system initiatives which reallocated count credit
- The patent examiner performance appraisal plan agreement
- The telework enhancement act pilot program agreement
- The new more flexible telework agreement PTP32
- Four regional offices
- Patents end to end has been developed during his tenure
Tribute to Robert and Discussion of POPA Historical Milestones (Ron Stern)
Robert deserves it and has worked tirelessly for POPA. He is an expert and well liked at Congress. A Defender of the Patent system and supports the defense and promotion of the United States Patent system. POPA will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in a few minutes.
POPA Historical Milestones
Change comes in little bits but 50 years make difference. I started at PTO in mid 60s, when examiners were in cubicles and worn green eyeshades.
- Supervisors were the only ones who had phones. To make a photocopy you needed permission and what you really got was a Photostat – a copy with black background and white letters.
- Full signatory authority was reserved for supervisors and everyone was capped out at GS-15.
- Work schedule was 8:30 to 5
- Numberof female examinerswas less than 4%
Joined agency during the introduction of compact prosecution with the emphasis on second action finals.
Previously Management counted actions: an action a day keeps the SPE away. Under compact prosecution performance was measured with hours per disposal which didn’t represent the actual performance of an employee. POPA convinced management to adopt a balanced counting system.
Benefits of production system
- The system was objective.
- You know when you made it and when you could stop working on your goals.
- Fairer than relying on subjective opinions of supervisors.
- Full signatory authority was granted to examiners.
Management used system to put pressure on examiners to produce more, set goals higher than what examiners previously produce. This was overriding determinate of employee overriding dissatisfaction concern which is still POPA’s overriding concern.
In 1976, we achieved a major first step in the taming of the goals when we reached an agreement that gave the corps as a whole more time. That agreement also set forth how the productivity measure was to impact examiners: 110% productivity was prima-facie evidence of sufficient performance on the factor of production to warrant a Quality step increase or a Superior Achievement Award and, most importantly, an achievement of half-way between the goal of the examiner’s current grade and the next higher grade (up to GS-13) was prima facie evidence of sufficient performance on the factor of production to qualify for a promotion. This promotion standard survives to this day. Previous to the ‘76 agreement, some supervisors tried to extract a full year's production at the next higher grade before they would grant a promotion.
Robert convinced David Kappos of the need for another corps-wide increase in time. Over year the years POPA has spenthuge amount of effort in making sure that examiners get non-examining time for new or extra duties, or time that otherwise isn’t directly related to taking an action in a case. And they are still doing it which is an important protection.
Pay is another issue to which POPA has devoted significant attention.
- Negotiating for timely promotion
- Awards for extra performance
- Protections for denial of within grade increases.
- Before any performance based action was to be taken against an employee, that employee must first be given an oral warning and an opportunity to improve, and then a written warning and an another opportunity to improve
2000 Agreement for a New Millennium brought many other benefits
- Pay raises of 10% for everyone
- Better screens and printers
- Acommitment to pilot a work at home program. Eventually, this program was expanded and morphed into the hoteling program that almost half the bargaining unit enjoys today.
- Able to place limits and conditions on the Customer Service factor in the Performance Appraisal Plans of employees
Starting in the late 70’s to date POPA has fought for the following programs:
- A flextime system, Management wanted time clocks or a time-sequential sign-in, sign-out system; we were able to persuade the Office to accept alphabetical sign-in, sign-out sheets.
- Compressed work week programs
- Part-time programs
- Maternity and paternity leave
- Credit hour programs
- Comp-time programs
- Leave donation programs
- Fair overtime opportunities
- The Law School tuition reimbursement program
- Technical training reimbursement program
- Maximum transit subsidies
- Agency support of field trips to factories and labs
- Attendance at legal and technical conferences
- Support for on-site day care for children
- Fitness center.
- Senior employees should have at least 150square foot of office space
- Individual representation of grievances
Not all negotiations are of the gentle persuasion. Sometimes we need the help of members of Congress, news media, and other organizations. We have maintained a very active outreach program, especially for Congress with the help of Helen Delich Bentley, a former member of Congress.
POPA has prevented the following actions:
- TheAgency proposed action to exclude employees from Title V
- Outsource the search function
Our lobbying was also sufficient to convince Congress to include employee representation on the newly established Public Advisory Committees by statute.
Closing Remarks (Pam)
Thank you to everyone who helped setup a wonderful celebration. Thank Ron, Howard, and Richard Hirn. Thank you for coming.