AFGE has always been a champion of telework and has pushed for its expansion in the federal government for years. In addition to cutting down commute times, fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall stress, telework makes work possible for some people with disabilities and caregivers. But it took a pandemic to prove our case and push agencies to think outside the four-walls of the office.
In the most recent negotiation between the Department of Education and AFGE Local 252, which represents Department of Education employees nationwide, the agency has agreed to vastly expand its telework program. During the pandemic, it became clear that the department couldn't have carried out its important mission without telework. In fact, productivity has actually gone up while most employees work remotely. As a result, the department is working with our union to scrap barriers to telework and expand remote opportunities so that the department will continue to ably serve schools, parents, students, and the American public.
“Our workforce has shown in the past 20 months how effective we are,” said Local 252 President Sheria Smith. “There’s an understanding that telework is not just a benefit to employees. It greatly benefits the department and the country as a whole.”
Here are the 4 highlights of the new telework policy:
- Expansion of remote work to any positions that can be performed remotely
Prior to the pandemic, only a limited number of positions were eligible for remote work. Employees whose spouses were foreign diplomats or in the military, for example, were allowed to work remotely. And the number of telework days was limited to once a week. Now remote work will be expanded to any jobs that can be done remotely. Remote work eligible employees do not have to report to offices. Employees who want to come to offices may also telework up to eight days a pay period.
- More flexibility in work hours
The core hours and days of the week in which work is performed will be more flexible. This is a big win for people with childcare and adult care responsibility as it will allow them to manage that responsibility while still serving the American public.
- Telework is no longer used as a reward/disciplinary tool
Telework was previously used as a reward or disciplinary tool. If employees had a performance challenge, for example, their telework eligibility would be taken away. Now if an employee is having difficulty performing work, the supervisor will identify the cause and address it instead of completely changing the employee’s work environment, which may have nothing to do with the performance issue. This will force the department to address performance issues at the source.
“The argument we made at the bargaining table is that if we can already show that working remotely helps increase productivity. Why would you hamstring our employees who are already having some challenges with productivity by taking away a tool that has been shown--pretty much across the board--to enhance productivity?” LP Smith added.
- Reimbursement of business expenses
Because most employees’ houses were not designed for full-time office work, they had to modify their living space to accommodate their work during the pandemic at their own cost. They, for example, had to buy new chairs, desks, lamps, or filing cabinets to continue to do their jobs. They had to upgrade their Internet to speeds capable of handling video conferencing. The department is committed to reimbursing employees’ out-of-pocket expenses the past 20 months.
Moving forward, it will also provide any equipment and supplies the employees need to do their jobs or allow them to purchase those things. Employees will also be able to use equipment and supplies from their offices at home.
The local thanks AFGE National for the national-level support in negotiations that led to eventual success.
“Cathie McQuiston, Denise Alves and John Howard have been wonderful resources for us at the bargaining table and in preparing for proposals,” said LP Smith. “We’re in their debt and we want to thank AFGE and AFGE staff for helping us get such an aggressive telework policy for our workforce.”