Feds like telework, but OPM balks

Unions and the feds they represent are pressing for continued maximum telework.

Over the past two years, more than one million people in America have lost their lives to COVID-19. And—in tandem with the disease’s takeoff—across the federal workplace, the pandemic brought dangers and rapid moves toward more telework. At most agencies, huge portions—even majorities—of feds began working remotely.

This spike in telework came in sharp contrast with the Trump-era trend just before the pandemic: The decade-long rise in telework had slowed to a crawl—indeed, reversed at many agencies—due to top-level resistance to telework throughout most of that administration.

Now, in mid-2022, with COVID still widespread but hospitalizations and deaths down, the once-telework supportive Biden administration is pushing for a return to traditional workplaces, at least for many. And this long-anticipated back-to-the-office trend is starting to meet resistance from many feds.

Leadership at some agencies continues to push more feds to return to their office spaces. Recently, many of those feds and their union representatives have been pushing back.

The American Federation of Government Employees, for its part, is insisting that remote work remains in general not only safer but more efficient. The union continues to try to negotiate a way to keep “maximum telework” going at the Office of Personnel Management, for example.

“We are still in a pandemic,” Marlo Bryant-Cunningham, president of AFGE Local 32—which represents OPM workers, said. “Returning people back to the office should not be rushed, and it certainly should not be done without providing a healthy and safe environment for employees to work.”

AFGE points out that it has tried on scores of proposals to satisfy OPM’s concerns about continued maximum telework—at least 80 “telework proposals” have been proffered, to be exact.

The labor organization continues to approach the issue with words that reflect an optimistic sprit that it might work out the bumps with management—and succeed in maintaining high levels of remote work. AFGE “wants the agency to use lessons learned during the pandemic to continue to serve the American public while keeping employees safe,” the union said.

Striking a more sour note, AFGE said of the agency that “OPM’s director seems more concerned with political posturing and assessing unreasonable deadlines for employees to return to the office than working out these details with our union.”

NEXT STORY: Workers Memorial Day marked

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