Federal Panel Orders ATF to Extend Telework to Additional Employees


12/19/07: A federal panel has ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to allow legal instrument examiners to telework, a move the agency has been resisting. The decision from the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) came at the request of NTEU, which has negotiated a telework program that covers other ATF employees.

“Now that this case has been decided favorably,” said NTEU National President Colleen Kelley, “I am hopeful that ATF will work with NTEU on strategies to make telework succeed for all employees, rather than focusing on ways to prevent employees from being part of the program.”

After three years of effort, including lengthy negotiations, NTEU won agreement from ATF in May 2006 on a telework program. At that time, ATF was unwilling to allow the legal instrument examiners to telework because of the material that would have to leave the office even though it permitted its industry operations investigators to telework and bring the same materials to the telework site. Seventeen months later, ATF has now been ordered to allow the legal instrument examiners to telework.

President Kelley said ATF’s action in prohibiting telework for these employees “was all the more outrageous because the agency had relocated them to West Virginia from Washington, D.C., resulting in commutes of at least three hours for some, with little regard for the loss of experienced examiners.”

The agency claimed that its concerns relating to the removal of materials from ATF premises should take precedence over the employees’ right to telework; it made that argument in the face of its refusal to automate work processes that might allow more secure access to the materials.

An FSIP panel member, sitting as a mediator-arbitrator in the case brought by NTEU, noted the union’s argument that ATF should not be rewarded for refusing to automate its work processes by denying legal instrument examiners telework opportunities.

Further, the FSIP member pointed out that not only have the industry operations investigators been teleworking for more than a year without incident, they are permitted to remove the same materials from the office as are handled by the legal instrument examiners.

In terms of the parties’ nationwide telework agreement, she said, there are sufficient safeguards for ATF to “take the steps necessary to prevent the dire consequences it has predicted.”

The FSIP decision means that ATF is required to adopt NTEU’s proposal that legal instrument examiners be permitted to telework under a six-month pilot program, after which either party could propose that the pilot become a permanent telework option.

President Kelley said NTEU’s proposal permits legal instrument examiners to telework under a part-time schedule defined as one or more days per week or several days per month. Once the pilot establishes telework as a viable option for these employees, the NTEU leader said, the union will propose they be placed under the master telework agreement on a permanent basis.