Federal Employees News Digest

Union files grievance over new HHS contract terms

A top union is pushing back against the new contract coming down the pike for Department of Health and Human Services employees.

The National Treasury Employees Union is firing off sharp denunciation of the proposed contract for frontline employees of HHS, saying the agreement is bound to “disrupt the workplace and further degrade labor-management relations in the federal government,” according to a union statement. The union described the plan as an “unfair, one-sided edict.”

HHS told the union it would impose new terms on employees as of the first week of May. The union, in turn, has filed a grievance—one of several regarding what it calls the department’s “sham bargaining” over the matter.

The situation, according to the union, in which workers and union are decrying the upcoming plan was caused directly by the department leadership’s missteps. HHS “prematurely rushed” various disagreements to the Federal Service Impasse Panel, on April 1, when many of the issues at hand could have been sorted out between managers and the union representatives at the bargaining table. In the end, that panel decided to implement 23 contract articles and refer 6 others back to the bargaining table, according to the union.

The core of the union’s complaint now, as described in the statement, is that “it is illegal to impose an incomplete contract while six articles remain outstanding, including the article covering the contract’s duration.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said in the statement. “We tried to negotiate a contract with HHS but their proposals were so retrograde that it was difficult to make progress.”

“At one point, the HHS bargaining team refused to even be in the same room with their own employees,” Reardon continued. “And now we see the end result: A so-called contract that shifts the labor-management balance strongly toward management, making it harder for employees to enforce their rights in the workplace.”

“Secretary Alex Azar and his negotiating team intentionally sabotaged bargaining in order to get to the administration-friendly FSIP, and NTEU intends to fight the premature implementation of the FSIP’s decision,” Reardon said.

NTEU has warned employees that managers may feel empowered to dramatically scale back telework and alternative work schedules or deny more leave requests. NTEU would consider those a violation of the existing collective bargaining agreement, which should remain in effect, and will pursue legal challenges to each and every violation.

“HHS employees want to do their jobs, promoting public health, inspecting food and medicine and managing the country’s health programs, and they shouldn’t have to wonder if their workplace rights and benefits are in jeopardy,” Reardon said. “To be clear, NTEU retains the ability to help employees challenge abuses of management discretion, violations of federal law including prohibited personnel practices, discrimination and attacks on the merit system principles.”

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments, including 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 HHS programs and offices.

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