In Latest Blow to SEC Staff Morale and Engagement, SEC Chairman Gensler Orders Costly and Unnecessary Move of Hundreds of Headquarters Staff into Temporary, Doubled-Up Office Space
The SEC has notified the union that it will not be extending the lease for Station Place 3 (SP3) at SEC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (HQ), and that it intends to move the almost 400 non-management employees currently located there into temporary, doubled-up spaces in SP1 and SP2, apparently so that they can be included in Chairman Gensler’s “Return to Office” plan this winter. The union has demanded formal bargaining over this misguided decision, which will result in an unnecessary and wasteful expenditure of public funds for repetitive HQ office moves in 2023, as well as a further decline in HQ employee morale and engagement. In its proposal, the union has requested that the SP3 employees be permitted to continue to work remotely until Chairman Gensler reaches a resolution of his ongoing litigation with his employees’ representatives over the new union contract (CBA), which will include new telework rules and office space policies at the SEC.
There are almost 400 SP3 employees at HQ, in Enforcement, DERA, OHR, OIEA, OIG, OEEO, OS and OIT. There are also another approximately 400 HQ employees who were hired during the pandemic. This means that up to 800 employees will have to be assigned space in SP1 and SP2 when we “Return to Office” early next year. However, due to Chairman Gensler’s ongoing litigation over the new CBA, the agency does not yet know what the new telework and office space rules will be, and thus cannot accurately determine what everyone’s in-office space needs will be at HQ. It is for this reason that the union has proposed that these employees be permitted to continue working remotely—as most of them have already been doing for nearly three years now during the pandemic. They can then participate in the office placement decisions for SP1 and SP2 after the CBA litigation is resolved in several months and many of the current restrictions on how often an employee can telework are eliminated. Otherwise, after Chairman Gensler’s costly plan is implemented, all of these employees will just have to be moved again in the inevitable HQ “restack” that occurs when the new rules are in effect.
The lack of a new contract with clear rules on telework schedules and in-office needs is a situation created entirely by Chairman Gensler’s human capital policy decisions. Throughout 2021, he refused to talk to his employees’ representatives informally about workplace concerns, including telework, despite the union’s repeated entreaties; he preferred for the parties to exercise their formal rights. He then refused to agree to our standard CBA negotiation ground rules for months, delaying the commencement of formal negotiations over a new contract. He then refused to engage in meaningful negotiations over the CBA all summer, and now he has forced the contract dispute to an impasse at the Federal Service Impasses Panel for resolution by a third party. That resolution will likely take months to occur, because so many issues are left on the table due to the Chairman’s refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations.
The union has communicated its grave concerns about the negative impact Chairman Gensler’s stopgap HQ plan will have on the SEC. We understand the SEC’s interest in taking advantage of the cost savings that will result from not renewing the SP3 lease. However, Chairman Gensler’s plan to temporarily provide office space for these employees by doubling them up in whatever offices may be available in HQ’s remaining footprint are not tenable. We regret that he has not approached this HQ issue in a collaborative fashion with his employees’ representatives. As with the CBA and Return to Office negotiations, he seems to believe that acting unilaterally without regard to the interests and concerns of the SEC’s professional staff can somehow be consistent with advancing the agency’s important mission. We disagree. We think this approach is causing great harm to the agency as an institution, and that this is reflected in the agency’s growing attrition numbers during Gensler’s tenure here.
The union does not believe that there is any feasible alternative to continued remote work that will avoid the dangerously high level of dislocation that will result from moving up to 800 employees into SP1 and SP2. After all, most of these employees have all been working from home 100% of the time for nearly three years due to the pandemic, fully performing the agency’s mission the entire time. And the agency has relied upon remote work by SEC employees in the past to deal with temporary dislocations, such as transit disruptions and, most notably, the pandemic. Even if Chairman Gensler believes that allowing these employees to continue full-time telework is not optimal for some reason, the union can see no rational scenario where he could conclude that forcing these employees into substandard accommodations for months is a better alternative.
“The theme of our current administration at the SEC is one of complete indifference to the turmoil that the agency’s human capital policies are creating and the harm they are inflicting on morale and productivity,” NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman noted this afternoon. “At this point, whether this is intentional or reckless does not really matter—either way, there is a clear, simple, efficient and tested alternative available to the SEC—continued remote work.”