A deputy explains why the Oregon state treasurer won’t pay airfare for remote workers
Date: September 2, 2022
Out of: Deputy State Treasurer Michael Kaplan, on behalf of Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read
To: SEIU Union Administrator Scott Robertson
Regarding: Response to employment complaint filed August 18, 2022
Context: Read, the state treasurer, is locked in a fight with the Service Employees International Union 503 Local 170, which represents 105 employees at the Oregon State Treasury. Two of those employees live in other states. One of them, an analyst with an annual salary of $111,516, filed a complaint against Read last month, asking him to return to Salem once a quarter — and to pay for his own flight.
Under a new state telecommuting policy, about 500 employees who are described as “remote” by the state must be “reimbursed for travel back to Oregon.” According to SEIU, Read broke a collective bargaining agreement by reassigning the analyst to a different classification that calls him back to Salem.
“The impact of this decision on him would be thousands of dollars a year in airfare and hotels, not to mention the time burden and COVID risk of so much air travel,” SEIU wrote on behalf of the analyst whose name Treasury Department withheld from the pending resolution .
Main argument: Kaplan, Read’s deputy, in his response to the union, claims that the Treasury Department has a different telecommuting policy than other government agencies. It’s something of a formality, although it could prove crucial in this dispute.
What’s even more interesting to the public is that Kaplan claims the broader state policy – which, you recall, applies to about 500 employees – is absurd.
“As lenient and supportive as Treasury’s working-remote policy is, it appears the ultimate goal is for employees not to return to the office at all, or for those with the least demanding requirements of office work to receive additional compensation.” for travel to and from work,” writes Kaplan. “We find this deeply unfair and do not understand why this is so [collective bargaining agreement] would allow special compensation for a portion of the represented workforce who are already avoiding the cost of commuting or living out of state and avoiding paying taxes in Oregon.
Why it matters: The union filed an almost identical complaint on behalf of the working class it represents. That means there’s more at stake than a Texan’s airfare. A dispute ensues over whether state agencies are required to reimburse workers for out-of-state commutes.
The Treasury declined to comment beyond its written response. SEIU officials did not respond ww‘s requests for comments.