The union promises to seek arbitration after the Treasury Department shut down the remote work pilot
The National Treasury Employees Union plans to take another step toward advocating remote work.
After the union filed a complaint about suspended negotiations on a remote work pilot program, the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service dismissed allegations of bad faith negotiations in a response from Commissioner Timothy Gribben, seen by the Federal Times. The union said it was ready to seek arbitration, although as of August 16 it had not officially done so.
“NTEU is disappointed that the Bureau of Fiscal Service continues to refuse to implement the remote work pilot agreement that we agreed on,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement to the Federal Times . “NTEU looks forward to taking our case to an arbitrator.”
On July 27, NTEU representatives met with agency officials to present their complaint. Since then, Gribben has issued a memorandum saying that while he regrets that the way in which negotiations ended may have been unexpected, he doesn’t think the decision violated the collective agreement.
According to the memo, BFS ended negotiations after being asked to do so by Deputy Treasury Secretary David Lebryk.
A spokesman for the bureau declined to comment. The union claims it has not been given any reason for breaking off the pilot negotiations.
Matthew Floyd, NTEU vice president for Chapter 190, said in an interview that he has attended virtual meetings where everyone was present, on camera and sharing ideas.
“I don’t think it would have been any different if we were sitting at a table in a conference room,” he said.
How does teleworking affect productivity?
Other colleagues and NTEU members agreed that remote work had no negative impact on productivity. NTEU represents 150,000 federal employees in 34 agencies and departments, including the Treasury Department.
“We strongly believe that BFS should stand by what it has agreed,” Reardon said. “A remote work pilot would provide BFS and NTEU with valuable data, although employees have already demonstrated their ability to do their jobs remotely. The pandemic was a pilot project in and of itself.”
NTEU’s case argues that once the parties begin negotiations, they must conduct them to completion and in good faith, as required by federal law and the employment contract.
The union claimed that procedure was violated when BFS refused to consider the remote work pilot scheme after most employees had been working 100% in remote working mode since March 2020. Rani Rolston, lawyer for the union, said the office’s staff were disappointed and surprised.
“When this news broke at the Commissioner’s Town Hall meeting, it was eerily quiet for most of the rest of the day,” Floyd said. “…It literally took everyone’s breath away when this news broke to us.”
National President Reardon, who has been open about the union’s telecommuting arrangements with more than eight federal agencies, reiterated the need for congressional support in his testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations on July 21.
“The use of telecommuting in the federal sector has been a win not only for employees, but also for management, who can recruit a more effective workforce without loss of productivity, for taxpayers, who save on the cost of renting federal buildings, and for the environment, who benefit from reduced pollution benefits from commuting,” he said.
Reardon and others have also pointed to tax savings as a mutual benefit of telecommuting.
What is the flexible work experience like in other federal agencies?
A council from the American Federation of Government Employees said it will seek arbitration over the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s denial of a national complaint about remote work, the Federal Times previously reported.
The Federal Communications Commission has moved to a new office that’s 30% smaller and estimates it will save up to $119 million over the 15 years of the new lease.
At the US Patent & Trademark Office, where more than 85 percent of trademark attorneys participate in telecommuting, working off-site saves the agency $12.5 million a year in lease costs.
Meanwhile, members of Congress have been discussing the impact of telecommuting and long-distance work on government operations, with Republicans sounding the alarm over a lack of oversight and data on pandemic productivity.
“It’s long past time for people to get back to work in person,” Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, said during a government operations subcommittee hearing on the future of federal labor last month.
At the same time, the White House Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance that has met with mixed implementation from federal managers, staff and agencies. While it gives agency leaders the right to determine flexibility in the workplace, the OPM Guide also says agencies should strive to fully integrate teleworking into their culture.
Remote work, OPM says, can be a retention and talent acquisition strategy, but it may require additional considerations that may involve fewer employees or positions.
While agencies struggle to stay competitive in hiring talent, broadly speaking 25% to 35% of US workers work from home.
Molly Weisner is a reporter for the Federal Times, where she covers industry issues related to the government workforce. She previously worked as a producer at USA Today and McClatchy and as an editor at the New York Times Printing Office. Molly studied journalism and French at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.