DOE, union agree on flexiplace program

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson pledged to promote telecommuting in a memo to department employees last week.

Telecommuting, or flexiplace, as it is known in many federal offices, is one of a growing number of alternative work schedule options being offered to government employees. Richardson's endorsement of the concept comes amidst labor negotiations between DOE and the National Treasury Employees Union. While the two sides have agreed to language regarding telecommuting, the full labor-management agreement is still in negotiations.

The telecommuting language allows employees to work off-site, usually at home, for up to one day a week, provided they maintain a high-level of work performance. Managers and supervisors cannot participate in the current program.

NTEU officials praised Richardson's endorsement of telecommuting, noting that the agency has taken "a major and welcome step forward" in its relationship with employees. But Alan E. Knight, executive vice president of NTEU Chapter 213, was also quick to point out that the agreement won't be "legally binding" until the two sides sign a final contract. Richardson's endorsement could get lost in the shuffle of subsequent administrations, Knight said. NTEU represents more than 2,000 DOE headquarters employees.

Criteria for eligibility to participate in the DOE telecommuting program include:

  • The employee has to be with the agency at least one year.
  • Work performance must not be below a Level 2 of the performance evaluation system.
  • The employee must not have received any disciplinary action in the last six months.
  • The work must be conducive to telecommuting-for example, tasks that involve thinking and writing.

NTEU Chapter 228 Vice President Don Freeburn said evaluations of a flexiplace pilot program currently in at DOE place showed an increase in employee morale and an improvement in overall employee work performance when telecommuting is permitted.

Knight said that many federal managers have not been open to the idea of telecommuting, but Richardson's endorsement could carry a lot of weight with DOE supervisors.

"What makes the secretary's actions significant is that he is instructing DOE managers to get with the program, and his backing will help make the program a success," Knight said.

"Employers cannot attract, retain, and motivate an effective work force if they are not responsive to quality of work life issues," Richardson said in his memo.

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