Negotiations to define post-pandemic remote work for federal workers at the U.S. Department of the Treasury have been suspended, according to The National Treasury Employee’s Union.
NTEU, which represents 150,000 federal workers in 34 agencies and departments, including Treasury, was working to negotiate a phased return-to-work agreement with the Bureau of Fiscal Service. The union’s president, Tony Reardon, told Federal Times in a statement that “much of the language was based on the inclusion of a pilot program allowing certain employees to continue to work remotely full-time.”
“Frontline employees with the Bureau of Fiscal Service teleworked successfully throughout the pandemic, maintaining productivity while also avoiding crowded working conditions,” he said. “Unfortunately, the agency ended negotiations over the pilot program, an abrupt change that was upsetting to employees who believed the agency was committed to a remote work program that would give them valuable flexibility in their work-life schedule and help with recruiting and retaining employees.”
A BFS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NTEU said it wants the bureau to return to negotiations on the pilot program as envisioned in the original agreement.
“We were close to an agreement on the remote work pilot and hoped it would be complete by the original Phase 3 return date of July 5,” an NTEU spokesperson said. “Employees were surprised earlier this month when the agency halted negotiations on it.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal workforce went from 3% of employees teleworking every day to nearly 60%. All federal agencies reported a higher rate of teleworking for employees after the OMB instructed agencies to maximize flexibility. Fifteen months later, with nearly two-thirds of Americans fully vaccinated, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address in March that federal workers will return to in-person work, while giving no clear timeline.
The White House’s Office of Personnel Management backed telework and remote work accommodations in its updated guidance, saying “the federal government, as the nation’s largest employer, is well-positioned to leverage telework, remote work, and other workplace flexibilities to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce of the future.”
OPM defines telework as the combination of working onsite and at an alternative site on a regular, recurring basis. A remote plan allows for an employee to work away from the office.
However, federal statutes, including the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, have no provisions that legally entitle employees to telework or remote work, and the decision to implement remote work is made by agency heads.
An NTEU survey from members across agencies found that the vast majority of federal employees, 94 percent, said they would like the option of teleworking additional days even after the pandemic subsides.
In December, Reardon advocated for the development of full-time telework programs when the nature of the work allows, it in written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Government Operations Committee on Oversight and Reform.
NTEU said it has reached telework agreements with other agencies, including the IRS, Patent and Trademark Office, and Customs and Border Protection, among others.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.