Unions Bargain for Voluntary Furloughs

By Eric Katz

March 14, 2013

Federal employee unions are negotiating with agencies across government to allow workers to volunteer to take unpaid leave in the face of sequestration.

“We’re getting emails and inquiries from employees who are interested in doing that,” Colleen M Kelley, the National Treasury Employees Union president told Government Executive, adding agencies have told her they have gotten similar requests.

Kelley said employees may be willing to take extra furlough days for a variety of reasons, including allowing lower-grade employees to keep working or spending more time with their young children and families.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Wednesday in a conference call that AFGE is also seeking to allow employees to volunteer to take furloughs.

Kelley said while NTEU has not completed negotiations with any agency, none have shown a problem with employees volunteering for extra furloughs “on the concept.”

In its most recent furlough guidance, the Office of Personnel Management said an employee “cannot request to be furloughed.”

However, “an employee may voluntarily request leave without pay which also places an employee in a non-pay, non-duty status,” OPM said. The human resources agency warned employees voluntarily taking leave without pay forfeit the right to due process guaranteed to furloughed employees, and the action may not have its intended consequence.

“While the granting of leave without pay to a significant number of employees may produce savings that could potentially affect the extent to which an agency needs to use furloughs to achieve the savings required by sequestration,” OPM wrote, “employees should be aware that there is no guarantee that volunteering for unpaid leave will have a significant enough effect on an agency’s operations to affect the agency’s need to furlough employees.”

Kelley said she does not foresee any problems with OPM and the agency noted the details may have to be negotiated. NTEU and AFGE said ongoing bargaining with agencies will also include details about how the furloughs are implemented, such as whether unpaid leave days are consecutive or spread over several pay periods. 

A handful of political appointees and lawmakers have vowed to take voluntary furlough days in solidarity with non-exempt federal employees. 

By Eric Katz

March 14, 2013