Fedweek

Washington, DC - April 2019: North-west corner of the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS recently imposed a contract affecting employees represented by NTEU that limits telework and alternative work schedules.

Tensions continue to rise between federal employee unions and several of the largest departments and agencies over changes to workplace policies that the agencies are moving to impose.

Unions charge that that such provisions must be addressed through the traditional bargaining process, which has resulted in contract language spelling out terms of such policies at many agencies. They say management now is essentially following practices called for by an executive order whose key terms have been blocked by a federal court ruling. That ruling is on appeal but remains in effect.

HHS recently imposed a contract affecting employees in a bargaining unit represented by NTEU that among other things limits previously negotiated provisions on telework, alternative work schedules and approval of leave requests, prompting the NTEU to file a complaint before the FLRA. That follows a similar action last year by Education that is the subject of a similar complaint by the AFGE union.

Last week the VA made proposals for a new contract with AFGE to replace a contract in place since 2011 affecting some 250,000 employees. It would among other things give front-line supervisors new authorities, streamline hiring and job classification processes, greatly reduce the amount of “official time” available to employees to spend on certain union-related duties. “Provisions were removed covering critical issues such as employee training, workplace health and safety, and protection from whistleblower retaliation,” said AFGE, which termed the proposal an “attack” by VA on its own employees.

Meanwhile, a group of more than 150 House members of both parties has written to the SSA urging it to return to the bargaining table with AFGE over a contract involving some 45,000 employees, saying the agency forced an impasse with proposals including limiting official time and access to agency space and equipment for union purposes.

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee have similarly written to the TSA urging it to commit to bargaining to replace a contract expiring at the end of this year, following a recent hearing at which the agency refused to make such a commitment.