The union, which represents employees of the federal agency that monitors complaints of discrimination against employers, accused management of illegally engaging in superficial bargaining before unilaterally implementing a plan to return employees to traditional jobs next week.
Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told contracting staff that they would be expected to come to work one day a week for a month starting on 16 May and twice a week from mid-June to the end of 2022. The news came just half an hour after the agency informed Council 216 of the American Federation of Civil Servants, which represents EEOC workers, about the decision. Managers and other employees of the units without negotiation report to the traditional jobs from last month.
The decision came as a surprise to AFGE Council 216 President Rachel Schonfield, who said she was waiting for a counter-offer from management on the union’s latest proposal to re-enter, which would ensure that negotiating staff return to their jobs in some capacity. to the end of May.
Schoenfield said that after the agency postponed re-entry due to the Omicron version of COVID-19, she hoped it would provide enough time to iron out details on how to get employees back to work when needed. But despite the EEOC’s promise to provide a draft re-entry plan in December 2021, the union did not receive it until March 4, which severely hampers the parties’ ability to negotiate.
For the past two months, the union has been unsuccessfully pushing to extend telecommuting remotely from the agency’s pre-pandemic position, while maintaining personal operations in field offices, and creating re-entry management processes covering everything from joint labor management safety instructions to how employees can ask which days of the week they will work in person.
“Our constant [telework policy] allow up to 5 days of telecommuting per week, although many employees have been allowed to take advantage of this instead of working remotely one or two days a week, which many do not have, ”said Schoenfield. “Another interesting thing is that during the pandemic, everyone was allowed to work remotely, but that’s not true after the current re-entry plan and [the two days in-person rule] and everything else on re-entry expires on December 31st. Everyone must continue to be eligible for telecommuting because they have been doing so successfully for two years. ”
In an email to EEOC President Charlotte Barrow to staff, she noted that only a small part of the agency’s workload came from personal visits to the agency’s offices before COVID-19, and telephone and other virtual services became even more popular during pandemic.
“Before the committee switched to emergency telecommuting, about 15% of the almost 200,000 inquiries the EEOC received in [fiscal] 2019 was processed personally in our 53 field offices across the country, “she wrote.
Following the news that the EEOC was continuing unilateral re-entry, AFGE lodged a complaint of unfair employment practices with the Federal Employment Authority, alleging, inter alia, superficial bargaining, a term used to describe non-negotiated negotiations. in the interest of reaching an agreement, but rather to tick a box to show that they are committed to a union.
In a statement, EEOC spokesman Nicole Saint-Germain said the agency had in fact negotiated in good faith with AFGE and would continue to do so. But she refused to provide Government executive with a copy of the re-entry plan.
“While we have made progress, we have not been able to solve several key problems,” she said. “[We] we remain committed to seeking an agreement with the trade union and look forward to continuing our ongoing discussions on the impact and implementation of the EEOC re-entry plan on the staff of the negotiating bodies.
In the short term, Schoenfield describes “chaos” as employees and union representatives try to prepare for re-entry. Employees have been asked to sign new telecommuting agreements and ask which days they would prefer to be in the office by their supervisors, while some union officials say they have been invited to safety instructions in their offices, although they do not know the criteria. will be used to determine whether the conditions are satisfactory.
“The union’s phones are ringing out of the hook of confusion about how this will happen, and to give an example, the union representative was told to come in for a review, but the agency did not even officially tell the union, ‘Okay, we’ll choose what we like about the idea.’ for joint instructions, “she said. “[It’s] funny, because our proposal had processes for all this. This would be a safe and orderly re-entry this month, as the agency wanted. . . And it’s strange that we still have this thing waiting, where the agency said it would send us a counter-offer, and we didn’t get anything. “
Saint-Germain said the union had been given a copy of a safety checklist that employees would use as they inspected their offices this week. But Schoenfield said she was not provided with a copy of the checklist, although she could not be sure whether a single union manager or other representative had received a copy.
Schonfield said that this conflict between labor and management would ultimately damage the agency’s ability to hire and retain skilled workers.
“Employees are rightly upset that they are in this situation and that the agency is not working with their union, but in terms of telecommuting, our staff in all accounts is serving the public for two years at maximum telecommuting, and employees are upset.” that they have been asked to fill out surveys on their remoteness performance, but the agency is ignoring this, ”Schonfield said. “Our employees read and see other agencies expand their telecommuting programs before the pandemic and then, when they see that the EEOC does not want to do it permanently, many employees will vote with their feet and leave to work in modern agencies. have flexible options. “