WASHINGTON – The union representing employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission applauded the EEOC’s announcement on Friday postponing plans to require staff to return to offices.
“We are very happy that employees can continue to work safely from home for now, especially given the transmissibility of the omicron variant,” American Federation of Government Employees Council 216 President Rachel Shonfield said. “Our union has been fighting for EEOC to get this right since the agency’s original reentry announcement in November. EEOC employees have sent over 200 emails expressing concern to agency management, and, unfortunately, we’ve had to file two unfair labor practice charges because of the agency’s failure to meet their legal obligations.”
AFGE Council 216, the National Council of EEOC Locals, late last year filed two unfair labor practice charges against the agency after EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows blindsided the union by announcing employees would be required to return to offices en masse with no plans to expand the telework program that was in place prior to the pandemic. None of the changes were negotiated with the union.
While the pause in reentry plans is welcome news, the EEOC still needs to uphold its bargaining obligations and negotiate with the union over a reentry plan.
“The union recommends that the EEOC take advantage of the postponement to reset management’s posture toward bargaining obligations. For good-faith bargaining to occur, there cannot be lines in the sand for dates, phases, and telework,” Shonfield said.
Shonfield says the union was inundated with calls from employees following the EEOC’s unilateral announcement of return to work dates.
“Employees were justifiably upset by the perceived lack of concern for their safety in the original plan, which did not utilize phasing in of staff or increased telework to thin office populations,” she said.
The vast majority of EEOC employees responding to a union survey said their productivity either increased or stayed the same while teleworking during the pandemic. More than 70% of workers said they would like to telework four days a week or full time, with another 15% wanting three days a week.
“EEOC employees have done an amazing job carrying out their civil rights mission while working remotely,” Shonfield said. “The original plan to bring all staff back and on the same date and with an old telework program was a recipe for disaster. Going forward, EEOC needs to consider the density of its 53 offices, local COVID transmission levels, the folks who work in cubicles, and that intake rooms for meeting with the public are the size of telephone booths. Governmentwide, agencies are expanding their pre-pandemic telework programs and adding remote work policies. EEOC, which considers itself the model employer, should do the same.”