AFGE Council 216 representing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) employees have filed two more Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaints against the agency for imposing reentry without completing negotiations with the union on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that addresses safe offices, protocols to safely meet with the public, telework, and other workplace flexibilities.
The first of the new round of ULPs was filed on May 16, the same day that the agency implemented its requirement for employees to reenter offices. The other new ULP was filed over the agency’s unilateral change to the telework agreement, which employees must sign for clearance to telework, without bargaining with the union.
According to Rachel Shonfield, president of AFGE Council 216, the union was negotiating for phased office return, depending on CDC COVID community transmission levels, in three consecutive weeks beginning in May.
“But safety has taken a back seat, while everything has been rushed and haphazard with a one- and-done reentry the week of May 16th, regardless of whether offices were in a high transmission level,” she said.
The council said in the telework ULP that, “Some of the changes made eliminated available schedules and changed processes. The agency's actions have resulted in a chilling effect that the union has no involvement. By its actions, the agency is interfering with, restraining, and coercing the exclusive representative in its ability to represent the EEOC bargaining unit.”
The two ULPs were in addition to another ULP the council had filed on May 6, which was when the agency first announced it was unilaterally imposing reentry. That set in motion many violations of processes that should have been negotiated like joint safety walk-throughs, inspections lists, neutral processes for selecting schedules, and others.
Chaos, confusion, safety concerns
The filing of the ULPs comes amid chaos, confusion, and concerns over safety, which could lead to an exodus of experienced workers, according to Shonfield.
For instance, EEOC’s announcement to staff said that management would do safety inspections, but then some union representatives were contacted for walk throughs. However, without the MOU, there was no agreement as to the process, the inspection form, or how to make sure issues would be fixed.
In Detroit, the walk-through revealed 13 areas of non-compliance, but no plans to postpone the requirement for staff to reenter. Detroit is also in a high COVID community transmission level. AFGE Local 3504 president Stephanie Perkins raised safety concerns through the weekend preceding reentry. Finally, the agency delayed Detroit’s reentry for two days, but then brought staff back in without notifying the union or explaining if anything had been fixed.
“Given the disorganized situation with how EEOC has handled the safety checks without the benefit of the MOU, there are likely to be additional safety concerns that will be learned of in the future,” said Shonfield. “The union also continues to fight for contactless virtual intake because these offices for meeting the public are not much bigger than telephone booths and do not allow enough room to social distance.”
This wouldn’t have happened if the agency had finished negotiating the MOU with the union.
According to Shonfield, EEOC delayed months in providing the union a reentry plan for bargaining, then only met for a handful of sessions. While the union was waiting for a promised agency counteroffer, instead EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows informed staff they were returning to the offices May 16, ending maximum telework, during which employees have successfully served the public.
Union officials and employees have also received mixed messages and different instructions on everything from safety checks to schedules and telework.
“EEOC scrapped the union’s proposal, which contained safe and orderly processes for reentry and a common-sense approach for expanding telework while ensuring coverage. Our employees see other agencies increasing their pre-pandemic telework options. However, EEOC refuses beyond a short-term period to increase telework, instead insisting on employees in the office even on days with no pubic facing duties.”
“Union officials are already hearing about employees who are leaving for other agencies or retiring. If EEOC is not competitive with other agencies on work-life balance and labor management relations, then this will just be the start of an exodus,” she added.
More about AFGE Council 216’s efforts to stop the EEOC’s forced reentry plan
AFGE Files ULP Complaint Against EEOC for Forcing Employees to Return to Worksite Without Completing Negotiations