Telework: the Unions Will OK Consistency at a Price

By on December 2, 2012 in Current Events with 17 Comments

I read with interest and, admittedly some amusement, OPM Director John Berry’s plea to Agency Heads to make certain aspects of telework consistent, at least in the DC Metro area.  Berry’s memo tells Agencies:

Agencies must redouble their efforts to communicate expectations to their employees and supervisors in written policies and procedures, subject to any applicable collective bargaining responsibilities.”

The Memo goes on to say:

“While increased use of unscheduled telework has enhanced our COOP capabilities during severe weather, special events and other emergency situations, it is now time to expand telework to allow a greater number of telework-ready employees to be productive during Government closures in order to meet the Act’s objectives.”

None of this can be argued with.  It all makes perfect sense unless an Agency needs union cooperation to make it work.  As we all know, though perhaps not Mr. Berry, Federal unions can refuse to even discuss telework changes during the life of a contract.  If there’s no contract, the union can bargain Impact and Implementation of any proposed Agency policy change for months or years.  When a Federal union smells the blood of a needed change in the labor relations water, their usual tactic of seeking a profit opportunity inevitably comes into play.  This particularly true in recent years with the current slate of political dipping their toes into labor relations.

So, let’s say Agency X wants to help Mr. Berry accomplish his memo’s goals and drafts a new policy accordingly.  Dutifully, they propose it to their union and the union wants, in return, something unrelated it failed to get in prior negotiations.  The Agency cries, in self defense, “Covered By”.  The union says no give on my proposal, no give on yours, and we’re off to the ever unpredictable Federal Service Impasses Panel (I’m not being negative, it’s the simple truth).  Meanwhile, Mr. Berry is whistling in the wind or is it a gale a la Sandy.

One thing Mr. Berry can do, if politically incorrect, is publish a Federal Register Notice outlining a regulatory change under OPM’s authority.  Once the new Regulation is in place, at least the consistent government-wide policy would go into effect as contracts expire or earlier if Agencies strike a deal.  Sooner or later, all are covered and the mill of government grinds consistent grain.  Of course, some unions might see that as a heavy handed application of OPM’s power.  I guess it depends on your perspective.

The pleading nature of this memo is evident.  It seeks to place the creation of consistency on a wide variety of diverse Agencies, all having no, some or total labor union involvement in decision making.  That’s why there’s an OPM i.e., to manage cross cutting issues.  OPM’s ambivalence in the exercise of this role has lead to much bigger problems in the merit system than inconsistency regarding who does or doesn’t get to work at home in a Washington weather crisis.  It has exercised exactly zero constructive purpose concerning assisting Agencies in developing bargaining approaches, using its regulatory authority to help Agencies manage better or rein in the current craziness at FLRA or MSPB.

Michael Bloomberg said,  “the politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy.” 

Lots of truth in this as it addresses OPM.

As always, any opinion you perceive is my responsibility alone.

© 2016 Bob Gilson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Bob Gilson.


About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.

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  1. Labor says:

    So Bob…why do you think OPM can issue policy on telework in the manner you suggest?   While the law says OPM can do policy and guidance, it seems to limit this policy and guidance to certain matters leaving the rest to agencies themselves.  For OPM to regulate….OPM has to have statutory authority to regulate.  You do know that…right?

  2. ImusJunkit says:

    Unions do like to bundle issues together.  If the Govt. wants to open up a union contract, then all things are fair game for negotiations.  This happens all the time in other types of contracts – so why is this a surprise? 

    OPM does have the power via rule making – but like every other “agency” they are more concerned with appearances and no offending the current party’s relationships than actual progress.  Barry could invite the Big unions in on developing concensus on the issue before pushing out to Agencies the “preferred” solution, however, that might actually take some real work and compromise.  

    Opps – that last one is a WDC Dirty Word – So Sorry!

  3. grannybunny says:

    I find the slant of this article rather bizarre.  Why would a union oppose an effort to make telework more widely-available to employees?  The vast majority of teleworkers are positive about the opportunity to work from home.

    • ImusJunkit says:

      Some ideas: 
      Forcing some workers to work, while others are not & the “Pay” associated with that.
      A reduction in office space (i.e. turf) that might to proposed to reduce the Govt’s costs.
      Perhaps NOT opposed, but as the Author points out: Unions will try to get additiopnal benefits in exchange for something the evil Govt. management wants (remember – they generally don’t like each other).

      • grannybunny says:

        This is something they both want.

      • HDandIT says:

        I agree.  For telework to truly save money, they need to reduce office space.  That would mean people sharing a desk in the office, or just having generic hotel cubes.  I know a lot of people in my office are against that. 

        • TexSis says:

          Sometime ago, I had a a year of two of federal work experience and 20+ years of work experience in a variety of other settings, suggested that we only provide hotel workspace for those who only worked in the office every other week.  We were renting, and heating/cooling lots of space and providing desks, chairs and file cabinets for a lot of people who were there less than half the time when you consider work schedules, holidays, annual and sick leave. What a waste.  Long time federal employess thought I was nuts.  I haven’t changed my mind. 

  4. Want fairness says:

    We’ve got two separate issues here – “unscheduled telework” which is working at an alternate site as opposed to traveling to the office in bad weather, and teleworking when the government is closed, as occurred during hurricane Sandy.  The big problem, as I see it, is not being equitable in how an agency treats their employees.  During Sandy, several of us were told to telework while the majority of our coworkers were getting a free paid day off (admin leave).  If you’re going to give some employees admin leave you should be giving it to all; if some employees want or need to telework they should be allowed to accrue credit time, in addition to the admin leave that everyone got.  

    • HDandIT says:

      My agencies telework agreement clearly states that the employee will work from home on bad/weather or other office closures.  Those that choose to telework have to agree to that.  Those that do not telework cant be forced to during a closure.  One of the selling points is operations continue during a closure.  So you want to kill that one because some people that do not telework can’t come in?  There is part of the problem with the telework idea.

      • Want fairness says:

         I see your point, but my agency’s policy actually says that teleworkers will be excused when the government is closed. OPM confused the issue in the operating status update when they said that teleworkers were still required to telework.  I’m all for making expectations known ahead of time, and being given the opportunity to agree to something before I sign, but this one was a stumper for a lot of folks.

      • P Curley says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised that they eventually require that any employee in a “telework compatible” job (IRS Revenue Agent for example) either sign up, 0r, if they decline, be forced to take annual leave in the event of an office closing or non-opening, while someone whose job is not telework compatible (secretary, for instance), would still be granted administrative leave. As telework becomes more widespread, this would be the next shoe to drop.

    • Cfehner says:

      I see the difficulty as only wanting to permit “telework” when there are closures or weather emergencies.  Most employees in the government want telework opportunities.   I can readily see that agencies only wanting to deal on these unscheduled situations could face the union’s desire to expand normal telework opportunities which are presently restricted in most agencies.  The real reason these normal telework opportunities are opposed comes from a profound distrust of the employees and a desire by mid level management incumbents to look like or feel like they are doing something.  Until this distrust and the issue of keeping mid level management secure are dealt with; there will be no progress on any telework proposals!

  5. Chicken Little says:

    “When a Federal union smells the blood of a needed change in the labor
    relations water, their usual tactic of seeking a profit opportunity
    inevitably comes into play.  This particularly true in recent years with
    the current slate of political dipping their toes into labor relations.”  Oh, the evil that lurks within Federal employee unions!  Next thing you know, they’ll be lobbying Congress not to freeze pay in perpetuity.  They must be stopped!!  Thank you Sir Robert for your unwavering service to your country.

  6. steve5656546346 says:

    Spot on, but the purpose of the Federal government is primarily political–with the actual work of the agency coming in a distant second…  At least, that is how it has come to be.

    (OBVIOUSLY, that must be all Bush’s fault, since the current administration is apparently incapable of being responsible for much of anything.)

  7. discouraged fed says:

    You assume “The Agencies” want the assistance of OPM. 

  8. Personnel Officer says:

    Excellent analysis, as usual, Bob.  John Berry and OPM have the very authority to do exactly what he is wringing his hands about.

  9. ATCS says:

    S0 once again “glum”, let’s start something out of nothing, because it could happen doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I know the sky is always falling with you when it comes to those “pesky” unions but you are becoming more pathetic with each article.