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PEF tells committees to ‘act fast’ to impact return-to-work, telecommuting

PEF’s statewide labor-management and health and safety committees must move very quickly to influence return-to-work and future telecommuting policies before a July 31 deadline.  That was the urgent message they received at an all-day Zoom meeting on June 25 with PEF leaders and staff.

“We have a lot of labor-management work to do in the next few weeks,” PEF Director of Contract Administration Debra Greenberg told them.

The current Memorandum of Agreement between PEF and the state regarding telecommuting expired at the close of business on July 2, but state agencies and authorities can continue telecommuting under the terms of the agreement or a pre-existing agreement until July 31, when according to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER), each agency is required to have their own telecommuting programs in effect and reviewed by GOER.

PEF’s agency level L-M and H&S committees were urged to survey their PEF constituents to find out what they want, and the committees should immediately contact the management chairs of these committees to request an emergency meeting to discuss the telecommuting plans that will be submitted to GOER.  Committee chairs should immediately reach out to their PEF field representative and involve him or her in this process.

“We’re not going to wait for the next quarterly labor-management meeting,” Greenberg said.  “We should say to management, ‘Let’s get this process started immediately.’”

The plans that are approved by July 31 will meet an immediate need to set and clarify telecommuting policies at the agencies.  But another, later date may follow for establishing permanent plans, in accordance with the tentative agreement between PEF and the state.

The tentative PS&T contract agreement, if ratified this month, would allow an employee who is denied telecommuting by their direct supervisor to ask management to review that decision.  Every state agency and authority will be required to implement a telecommuting plan within nine months, and the agencies and authorities must meet and confer with the union to develop those plans. The four-day-per-pay-period limitation is eliminated in the tentative agreement and instead agencies, to the greatest extent possible, should allow flexibility in the employees’ choice of which and how many days to telecommute per week or pay period.

“We have time after ratification to improve these agency plans,” Greenberg said.  She added that she believes agencies were often impressed by how well employees performed from home during the pandemic shutdown and now may be willing to approve more robust telecommuting plans than they had allowed before the pandemic.

PEF associate counsel Ed Aluck said agencies will have the right to decide where telecommuting is “feasible,” with PEF input, but now PEF can say, “It worked for 16 months; so what is your objection?”

Greenberg told the PEF committee chairs to reach out to her or to Aluck if they encounter resistance to meeting with PEF to develop these plans.

PEF Vice President Sharon DeSilva, who chaired the Zoom meeting, said, “Agencies are going to consider their operational needs.  We have to say, ‘Telecommuting has been working even above and beyond what was required.’  It has been quite successful.”

“Our labor-management and health and safety committee members should work together with their field reps,” DeSilva said.  “Let’s work as a team!”

“It is clear that agencies must develop their plan with us,” Greenberg said. “That is what the contract requires.”