Union Says Decision Could Save Taxpayers Money on Office Costs
WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Government Employees today announced that it won an arbitration decision affirming the right of unions to negotiate agreements about performing representational work at home. The arbitration resulted from a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last August that forbade union officials from performing representational work out of their homes. AFGE argued that USDA could not unilaterally cancel existing work at home arrangements for union officials because the practice had been established for more than 20 years.
“USDA’s rationale for prohibiting union officials from telecommuting was completely unfounded,” said AFGE Attorney Andres Grajales, who argued the case. “Not only that, this arrangement was mutually beneficial because the agency saved taxpayer money on office space, equipment, and electricity.”
USDA argued that union officials are ineligible to work from home because U.S. telecommuting law only permits working from home on “official agency duties.” AFGE argued, and the arbitrator agreed, that unions can negotiate agreements about performing representational work at home because such agreements are not governed by U.S. telecommuting law. The more than 20 years of past practice of permitting USDA union officials to perform representational work at home prevented the agency from unilaterally canceling such arrangements.
“This decision clearly opens the door for other federal bargaining units to negotiate agreements with their agencies,” said Grajales. “Agencies will no longer be able to reject such proposals on the basis of U.S. telecommuting law because it does not apply.”
U.S. telecommuting law was enacted by a brief paragraph in a fiscal year 2001 federal appropriations bill (Section 359 of Pub. L. No. 106-346, 114 Stat. (2000)).
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.