Washington D.C. – Health and Human Services employees took part in informational picketing outside agency headquarters today to protest management’s refusal to negotiate a new contract.
The picketing successfully alerted the public that HHS leadership is failing to meet the standard, set by Congress, that federal agencies bargain with their employees in good faith.
“This started when the president issued his series of three anti-employee executive orders,” said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon. “By trying to railroad HHS employees into accepting a contract that eliminates nearly all of their rights and benefits and voices in the workplace, HHS is in danger of losing its ability to recruit and retain the highly skilled employees it needs to protect the public health.”
NTEU represents about 14,000 HHS employees around the country, including at the Food and Drug Administration, the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Center for Health Statistics, and other important programs and offices.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Reardon joined a large crowd of HHS employees during the lunchtime picketing, which also drew support from other NTEU-represented employees nearby.
“The dedicated employees at HHS provide some of the most essential services to the American people and deserve the right to bargain for a fair contract,” Norton said. “Yet, HHS leadership has not even attempted to engage in good-faith negotiations. HHS leadership must end this self-imposed impasse and come to the negotiating table with HHS employees and their union.”
“The confrontation with HHS has escalated because management repeatedly refuses to do one of the most basic things management can do: engage and listen to their employees,” Reardon said.
Over the summer, HHS offered a contract that eliminated 21 articles—a full one-third of the contract—and called it their last, best offer, and then abandoned negotiations. HHS proposes to eliminate key job benefits that employees value deeply.
“We brought our contract proposals to the table, prepared to negotiate. When they refused, we asked to meet with Secretary Azar. Thousands of his own employees sent him a petition. Members of Congress wrote letters. Nothing worked, so here we are,” Reardon said. “I applaud the HHS employees for dedicating some of their valuable leave time to inform taxpayers that a major government agency is failing to treat its employees with respect.”
Informational picketing by federal employees has been allowed since NTEU won a court decision on the issue in 1976 in a case involving IRS employees in Kentucky and New York and was subsequently protected by federal law.
For photos of the event, click here.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.