National labor-management council spars over telework

Despite a lively -- and at times tense -- discussion on Wednesday, the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations failed to reach a consensus on the charter for its recently established telework working group.

In her report on the group's first conference call, council member Patricia Niehaus, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said some participants thought the group was created to explore ways to implement a mobile workday for federal employees in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Others thought the group ought to work toward a broad, governmentwide telework policy.

"We kept coming back to the same thing," Niehaus said.

Differences of opinion within the working group spilled over into a discussion among members of the entire council.

Co-chairman Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and federal chief performance officer, said the Obama administration is developing a governmentwide telework policy. When asked about OMB's progress doing so, Zients said, "There have been discussions. It's engaged." But he added, "I don't think it's imminent."

Zients, who voiced concerns about the working group in September, questioned whether the group is necessary before a broader telework policy is unveiled.

John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, fired back, reminding the council that a number of union contracts involving telework date back to the 1990s. He said examining a mobile workday only in the event of a snowstorm would be insulting. "If you can work from home on a snow day, you can work from home on a beautiful day in July," he said. "We're half-stepping the issue.

"Telework has to come through this group," he added. "Period."

Meanwhile, the council did reach a consensus on guidance to advise agency labor-management forums on evaluating success of the partnerships. The document will be posted soon on the council's website and sent to agency forums.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an implementation plan for the labor-management forum at the Social Security Administration. Both sides are ready to move forward, reported council co-chairman John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Berry still is working on a letter to be sent to agency labor-management forums with guidance on engaging employees or their union representatives ahead of time in decisions that affect their daily work, known as "predecisional involvement."

The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations was created through a 2009 executive order. Its next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1.

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