Massive Limits on Telework Proposed

Dec 17, 2018


The Department of Health and Human Services had proposed limiting telework to 1 day a week or potentially eliminating the program altogether. The Department and the National Treasury Employees Union are in final negotiations, as mandated by the Federal Service Impasse Panel. The Panel asserts jurisdiction over the collective bargaining process.

NTEU objects to these changes. They have a deadline of Saturday, Dec. 22nd and then they will submit their final offers and justifications to the Panel and a new contract will be struck.

HHS wants to limit telework access to 1 day a week. Currently, there is no cap. The proposal also allows the department to cancel unilaterally any scheduled telework day for almost any reason without notice and require that employee come into the office.

HHS’s proposal states:

[su_quote][The] employer reserves the right to require more frequent days at the official worksite and duty station and to recall employees without prior notification from scheduled telework days for situations deemed appropriate by the employer, either planned or unplanned, including, but not limited to, office assignments, meetings, absence of other employees, emergency situations, training, classes, business reasons, operational demands, or mission-related needs. [Furthermore], in such instances, the telework day is forfeited, and the employee is not entitled to substitute another telework day.[/su_quote]

The agency’s initial proposal would’ve gotten further but negotiators stripped language at NTEU’s request that would’ve barred employees form telework is they were absent on another day of the week, for any reason, including official holidays.

Tony Reardon, NTEU president, criticized the proposal and thinks it could lead to a mass exodus from the agency.

[su_quote]Telework is a smart, cost-effective workplace policy that has been shown to increases productivity, cut administrative and real estate costs, and reduce traffic congestion,” he said. “Arbitrarily eliminating telework would have a devastating impact on current workers and likely risks skilled workers running for the exits and turning down job offers and will certainly make the U.S. government an outdated employer.[/su_quote]

Members of Congress have caught wind of this and wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking the department to reverse its thinking in its negotiations. The agency has been accused of (by lawmakers and union officials) of bargaining in bad faith with NTEU, engaging in “surface level” bargaining without a desire to reach an agreement so they can “check boxes” in the process to reach the Impasse Panel.

[su_quote]Because the 2 parties have not reached a true impasse, I urge HHS to bargain in good faith with NTEU to resolve these disagreements,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote. “HHS’ actions throughout this process fit the administration’s disturbing pattern of hostility toward federal employees and the labor organization that represent them.[/su_quote]

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