Labor-management council considers tackling telework

The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations is considering wading into the issue of telework.

During a monthly meeting on Monday, council co-chairman John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, gave members 10 days to volunteer for a working group on the alternative work arrangement. If the topic generates enough interest, then the working group would explore possible ways to increase the number of federal employees authorized to work remotely, especially in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Speaking to the council at OPM headquarters, Berry said he believes telework allows the government to be more agile and able to maintain continuity of services during emergencies. He encouraged members to tackle the issue, reminding them there is high-level interest in telework, including support from President Obama.

But a number of council members appeared lukewarm about the working group. Even co-chairman Jeffrey Zients, federal chief performance officer and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget -- voiced concerns about addressing telework. Given that many of the labor-management partnerships at the agency level are relatively new, Zients said he wondered if it was too early for the council to push a "signature issue."

Other concerns included the inability to make sweeping recommendations on an issue that is tailored to every agency.

Also during Monday's meeting, Berry announced that as of last week, unions and management agreed to begin bargaining through pilot programs at six federal agencies: the Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments; the National Credit Union Administration; and OPM.

The pilots, authorized by the December 2009 executive order that created the national council and established labor-management partnerships at the agency level, permit bargaining over specified subjects that are not usually negotiable in the federal sector such as technology, methods and means of performing work.

Unions and management at the Labor and Treasury departments have yet to reach agreements.

The national council also is moving closer to adopting a set of standard metrics to measure the success of agency labor-management partnerships. During the meeting on Monday, council members Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, and Michael Filler, director of public services at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, presented refined metrics under three broad categories the council had agreed to: mission and service delivery, employee satisfaction and engagement, and labor-management relationships.

Berry was happy with the proposed standards. "It looks like real, solid progress," he said on Monday.

This new set of metrics will be discussed further, and possibly approved, during the council's next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 6.

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