HHS Moves to Eliminate Telework; Sen. Harris Sends Letter to Azar

Press Release December 14, 2018

Washington D.C. – The unfairly abbreviated contract negotiations between NTEU and the Department of Health and Human Services, already contentious, took a more ominous turn when the agency said Thursday that it wants the power to eliminate telework altogether.

The continued bad faith bargaining by HHS is drawing even more attention on Capitol Hill as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., joins those who have written letters urging HHS Secretary Alex Azar to reverse course and negotiate a fair and equitable contract with his employees.

“For those who wonder why HHS has treated contract negotiations with such disdain, this latest proposal proves that their intent is to roll back all the progress that HHS employees have made in the workplace,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said. “All these years, HHS has never reported problems with the agency’s carefully managed telework program, and now they suddenly want to abolish it.”

HHS and NTEU are concluding two weeks of contract negotiations with a federal mediator, as ordered by the Federal Services Impasse Panel. On Thursday, HHS proposed a limit of one day of telework per week for employees with the unilateral power to eliminate it altogether.

“Telework is a smart, cost-effective workplace policy that has been shown to increase productivity, cut administrative and real estate costs, and reduce traffic congestion,” Reardon said. “Arbitrarily eliminating telework would have a devastating impact on current workers and likely risks skilled workers running for the exits and turning down job offers, and will certainly make the U.S. government an outdated employer.”

Telework is just one of the many long-standing workplace benefits at stake as the agency attempts to diminish the ability of its own employees to have a meaningful voice in the workplace. Earlier this year, HHS negotiators made proposals that eliminated one-third of the contract, refused to bargain, and then walked away from negotiations. HHS’ tactics are exactly the opposite of what Congress intended when it said collective bargaining in the federal sector is in the public interest, and NTEU has filed three separate national grievances over the egregious process.

“NTEU is grateful that Sen. Harris has added her voice to those in Congress growing increasingly concerned that HHS continues to violate the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations statute,” Reardon said.

Harris’ letter, sent to Azar on Thursday, said HHS employees “deserve full access to the collective bargaining rights provided to them by federal law.”

“HHS’ actions throughout this process fit the Administration’s disturbing pattern of hostility toward federal employees and the labor organizations that represent them,” she wrote.

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.