Chapter Chatter - July 27, 2015

The following is a reprint of an email sent to all OCC NTEU members last Friday.

Please bear in mind, when you read that the proposed unassigned workspaces will be 35 sq ft, the current requirement is that cubes will be 48-64 sq ft. And these new cubes will have dividers between them below eye level, so as to promote an open work environment and effectively eliminate privacy.

Notwithstanding a deadline for negotiating compensation that does not exist for Office Space Allocation, the article below is cursory with respect to all of the details and nuances of both Collective Bargaining Agreement articles that need to be negotiated. The office space article needs to be negotiated. However, negotiations should not intentionally be structured to the exclusion of compensation negotiations.


Management Seeks to Put the Squeeze On Employee Office Space, Pay

NTEU recently exercised its right under the current contract to reopen negotiations on compensation and benefits (Article 39) with the goal of addressing employee concerns regarding merit pay and geo pay, along with other issues.

However, OCC management—specifically, its Workforce Relations and Performance Management section in the Office of Human Capital—has already begun to throw roadblocks in front of NTEU's attempt to even get to the bargaining table to address these issues. Management has taken the position that it is more important for the agency to first bargain over the reduction of office space (covered by Article 15 of the contract) and complete office space negotiations before beginning negotiations over changes to compensation and benefits.

The Problem?

The big problem with this approach is that it is highly unlikely that NTEU and OCC will be able to reach an agreement on office space anytime soon. As a result, negotiations on compensation—including the determination of your pay raise for January 2016—would be delayed, possibly into next year.

Why is NTEU so concerned this could occur? Because the union knows that management is seeking drastic reductions in office space allocations for employees. When the parties bargained the contract in 2013, management proposed the following reductions in space for field, Large Bank and satellite offices: "Workstations will be unassigned, measure 35 square feet, supplemented by personal storage and allocated on a 4:1 basis. Shared spaces will range in size from 10 SF to 35 SF, with number and configuration dictated by the layout of the office."

NTEU strongly opposed this proposal. Management eventually withdrew its proposal after NTEU said it needed to solicit feedback from affected employees on these proposed cuts in office space. Management’s next proposal was to form a joint labor-management committee to continue to study the issues relating to office space and to develop a recommended solution, and this was incorporated into Article 15 of the contract. During subsequent workgroup discussions, NTEU continued to insist that any reductions in office space be explicitly linked to expansion of telework. Although this is an approach that has been used by management and unions in many other agencies, OCC has refused to accept this basic concept.

Management Tries Another Tactic

Since the workgroup could not agree upon a recommendation, management exercised its option to reopen Article 15 under the terms of the contract. However, given the prior discussions on this issue—at the bargaining table and in the workgroup—there is no reason to think this matter will be resolved quickly. The parties will likely need the dispute resolved by an independent third party, such as the Federal Service Impasses Panel, as provided under federal labor law.

Given the situation on office space, NTEU believes that compensation bargaining must occur prior to further negotiations over office space. This position is supported by the fact that the contract provided the specific deadline of May 31 for reopening Article 39 so that negotiations can conclude prior to Jan. 1. There is no such deadline or timeframe for the Office Space article. The reopener of that article was only connected to when the workgroup’s work was “completed,” which management decided was when the parties could not reach agreement on a recommendation.

So now it appears that management is trying to engage in hardball bargaining tactics in an effort to get NTEU to agree to major concessions on office space just so the union can get to the bargaining table on compensation, or to pressure NTEU into taking a lesser package on compensation because of time constraints and to avoid delaying employee pay increases.

NTEU Will Not Be Bullied

NTEU will not succumb to such tactics. The union is prepared to fight the issue of the negotiation schedule for these two articles to impasse, for decision by a neutral third party, if necessary. What's more, NTEU will never accept a deal that does not provide a fair and reasonable agreement for employees. If compensation negotiations are delayed and an agreement cannot be reached before Jan. 1, NTEU will insist that any agreement be made retroactive to that date.

NTEU needs your support to secure fair and reasonable agreements on compensation and office space. If you have any questions or to provide feedback on these matters, please contact your Chapter President.

“ ensure that every federal employee is treated with dignity and respect.”