WASHINGTON – The Federal Labor Relations Authority has issued a complaint against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for violating federal labor law by failing to complete bargaining with the American Federation of Government Employees before changing working conditions for EEOC employees represented by the union.
AFGE Council 216 filed an unfair labor practice charge against the agency in May after EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows ordered employees who have been working remotely with great success since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to return to physical offices without first completing a reentry agreement with the union, which is a violation of the Federal Service Labor-Relations Management Statute.
“We are thrilled that the FLRA investigation validated our charge and determined that the EEOC violated the law by failing to complete negotiations with our union before ordering employees back to offices,” AFGE Council 216 President Rachel Shonfield said. “As the agency charged with protecting the rights of all workers across the country, the EEOC should not ignore the collective bargaining rights of its own employees.
“The FLRA complaint is good news all around. We look forward to the FLRA process yielding a result that will ensure EEOC works with the union on negotiating a reentry agreement that is good for EEOC’s workers and the public,” Shonfield said.
Since EEOC ordered employees to return to worksites, most offices have moved into high COVID-19 community transmission levels, with positive cases reported in many offices.
“Employees are justifiably upset that EEOC did not work with their union to ensure a safe reentry into a hybrid workplace,” she said. “While other agencies are increasing prepandemic telework and remote options, EEOC’s plan contains only a short-term telework increase. EEOC should heed the administration’s support for collective bargaining and expanding remote work and telework options.”
EEOC employees have successfully conducted intake, mediations, and hearings by telephone and virtually since the pandemic without issue. Even prior to the pandemic, intake often occurred by telephone and hearings were conducted virtually.
“It is critical that the agency negotiate with the union on these subjects before reintroducing in-person service options,” Shonfield said. “Intake rooms are the size of telephone booths, and in-person mediations involve groups congregating for hours in conference rooms. Adaptations must be made to account for the continuing presence of COVID.
“The union’s plan would ensure that the public continues to be served while protecting their safety as well as the safety of EEOC employees,” Shonfield added. “EEOC’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach insists on staff working in the office even on days when they do not have public-facing duties. In turn, employees are voting with their feet and leaving for agencies offering remote work. This will exacerbate the EEOC’s chronic understaffing and result in the public waiting even longer for help with their discrimination complaints.”