2/12/13: In the past few weeks, the union and management Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiating teams met with a mediator to attempt to resolve the remaining differences over a new labor contract at the agency. Unfortunately, after several days of mediated negotiating sessions, the parties were unable to reach agreement on any of the remaining articles subject to negotiation. All of these issues will now have to be resolved by the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). The parties will submit briefs in the coming weeks, the mediator will draft a report, and the matter will be submitted to the FSIP, which will then impose a contract on the parties. A final decision could be months down the road.
At a recent SEC “town hall” meeting, SEC Chairman Elisse Walter appeared to express willingness to compromise with the employees’ union representatives over work life issues at the CBA table. For that reason, the union negotiating team made several offers to the management team during the mediation sessions, in an effort to try to meet management's concerns and achieve a broad compromise resolving the remaining issues. The union's offers were rebuffed by the management team, however, which continues to insist that its positions be accepted by the union with respect to all remaining issues.
The issues that remain to be resolved mostly involve a number of work life balance issues that are important to SEC employees based upon union surveys and focus groups. These are all modest, mainstream programs that are already in existence at other federal agencies, including FIRREA agencies, including:
Work Schedules: The union has proposed implementation of a flexible 5-4-9 schedule that would permit 5-4-9 employees to earn and use credit hours as a scheduling flexibility. This basic federal work schedule has been in place at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for years. As you know, the union has already negotiated a 5-4-9 schedule at the SEC without credit hours, and employees who are not on a 5-4-9 schedule can already earn and use credit hours under the CBA. These two programs have existed at the SEC for over a decade and combining them as FDIC has already done would not constitute a substantial change for management. For that reason, the union could not agree to management's demand that the article contain a clause that would allow management to terminate the program any time, for any reason, and without reference to the standards for termination of work schedules currently provided by Congress.
Telework: Management continues to demand a number of changes to the telework article in the CBA, which would afford managers unfettered discretion to terminate existing telework agreements, and to refuse new ones, both without reference to any objective standard. In addition, they want all existing teleworkers to have to reapply for telework annually under the new highly discretionary standards. Management also continues to demand the termination of the expanded telework trial program, under which over 100 SEC employees have been successfully teleworking for 3, 4 or 5 days per week, rather than make it permanent and available to all employees who have the ability to participate based on their jobs. The union offered to cap participation in the expanded program as part of a package deal to alleviate management concerns, but management continued to insist upon its termination. Management unwillingness to compromise on this issue at this time is particularly puzzling to the union, because the SEC faces space shortages in a number of offices now and has begun to double up professional staff in smaller offices. Expanding telework opportunities would greatly alleviate this space crunch, which was created by the SEC's decision to lease Constitution Center in Washington a couple of years ago.
Professional Dues Reimbursement: The union’s proposal is simply that the agency reimburse employees for their bar dues or CPA dues, to the extent that maintenance of a professional license is a requirement of an employee’s job at the SEC. This very basic, low cost benefit is already enjoyed by federal employees at a number of other federal agencies, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). It is also a benefit that most of the people the SEC is trying to recruit enjoy in the private sector.
Upward Mobility Program: The union continues to pursue implementation of a modest upward mobility program to provide training and advancement opportunities to a small number of lower graded support staff at the agency. A small pilot of this program was successful at the SEC under the last CBA, and similar programs exist across the federal government.
Fitness Center Reimbursement for Regional Employees: The union proposes a modest gym membership fee reimbursement program which would allow regional office employees to enjoy the same type of subsidized gym membership as already enjoyed by Headquarters employees, who have a subsidized gym provided to them with a sliding fee scale. Such programs already exist in other federal agencies.
Procedures for Government Shutdown: The union proposes a new article in the CBA which would provide basic procedures for handling government shutdowns, including clear, fair rules for dealing with any furloughs. Such provisions currently exist in other agencies’ collective bargaining agreements, including at the FDIC, and they are needed in our current climate, when government shutdowns appear to be threatened annually.
"We were hopeful that the mediated sessions would bear fruit. Unfortunately, though, nothing seems to have changed at the negotiating table since the FLRA filed a complaint against the SEC for engaging in unfair bargaining practices, which the SEC settled last year," NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman noted today. "At this point, we look forward to a decision from the FSIP."