Washington D.C. – Scaling back telework at the Department of Health and Human Services would increase commuting times, reduce productivity and prompt many employees to consider leaving the agency, according to an employee survey conducted by the National Treasury Employees Union.
NTEU shared the survey results with HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a letter on Monday to urge him to reconsider cutting or eliminating telework for thousands of HHS and Food and Drug Administration employees around the country.
“If management continues moving to cut telework, HHS and FDA will lose some of our most valued and experienced civil servants – and this is not something the agency and the taxpayers can afford to happen,” wrote NTEU National President Tony Reardon.
In a survey of 1,600 HHS employees from multiple departments, five out of six said reducing or eliminating telework would be a factor in deciding to leave the agency. More than half said it would increase the time and cost of their commute and reduce their overall productivity. There was also widespread concern that there would be an insufficient number of work stations at their offices without telework.
A June survey of NTEU-represented employees at the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearings Operations showed similar employee support for telework and concern over the impact of handing discretion for telework to management officials. In contract negotiations with NTEU, SSA is trying to remove telework from the collective bargaining agreement and provide managers with the ability to approve or change telework schedules with no accountability. That prompted concerns from OHO employees that telework decisions will be arbitrary and punitive.
Telework has been a staple of the federal workforce for many years and increasing telework opportunities across the federal workforce is the objective of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act. Uniform telework policies in collective bargaining agreements are critical to promoting that objective.
HHS did not raise any concerns about the telework program before attempting to eliminate it from the employee contract during contentious and abbreviated negotiations last year. In the HHS survey, 54 percent of the employees said they have been teleworking successfully for at least five years and many for more than 10. About two-thirds of the respondents who telework say they usually do so for two or three days per week.
“For years, HHS employees have operated under a contract that they built their lives around, providing them the right to work-life balance as they served their country by keeping food and medicine safe and supporting our nation’s health care system,” the letter states.
Under a contract article implemented by the Federal Service Impasses Panel and opposed by NTEU, HHS employees can expect to report to their work stations at least four days per week, as well as other strict limitations on telework.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.