Department has stripped telework provisions from its union contract, and is expected to require employees to commute at least four days per week.
A recent survey of Health and Human Services Department employees conducted by the National Treasury Employees Union found that more than 80% of respondents would consider any cuts to telework in their decision whether to remain at the department.
NTEU surveyed roughly 1,500 employees in its bargaining unit at HHS—including both union members and non-members—and found that workers expected significant and widespread negative impacts from HHS’ plan to reduce telework opportunities and leave the arrangement entirely at management’s discretion.
Currently, most HHS employees with telework agreements work between three and five days per week remotely. But the department is aiming to implement a recently secured provision in its new collective bargaining agreement to cut telework opportunities to one day per week. The provision is one of several pro-management proposals mandated by the Federal Service Impasses Panel earlier this year.
According to the NTEU survey, 9% of HHS bargaining unit employees believed cuts to telework would reduce productivity, 28% thought the new policy would lead to increased commute time and costs, and less than 1% were concerned about an insufficient number of work stations at department offices. But nearly 54% of respondents believed the changes would lead to all of those issues.
More specifically on employee commutes, 33% of survey respondents said they expected their weekly commute time to increase between one and four hours. Another 32% expected their commute to increase between five and nine hours per week, and 29% feared their commute would grow more than 10 hours each week.
About 84% of bargaining unit employees said that the reduction or elimination of telework would be a factor in their consideration whether to look for another job or retire. Only 11% said it would not factor into their decision-making, while about 4% answered “Other.”
In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, NTEU National President Tony Reardon shared the results of the survey, along with several supplemental written answers from respondents, to encourage the department to reverse course on its plans to cut telework.
“Telework has made me much more productive,” wrote one employee. “If this goes away, so will I.”
“If telework and alternative schedules are eliminated or curtailed, I will immediately begin looking for other jobs,” another worker said. “Not having to spend hours and thousands of dollars in gas yearly has made working at HHS an option.”
Reardon told Azar that the changes to telework could lead to a staff exodus from HHS, potentially endangering its mission.
“If management continues to cut telework, HHS and the FDA will lose some of our most valued and experienced civil servants—and this is not something the agency and taxpayers can afford to have happen,” Reardon wrote. “If we lose these dedicated employees, the harm of these policies will extend far beyond the employees to the public they work to protect.”
HHS did not respond to a request for comment.