Navigating Remote Work Policy Changes: Insights from AFGE Local 17’s Town Hall

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In this AFGE Local 17 Town Hall, host Doug Massey discusses the decision to bring VA employees back to the office after a period of remote work. Massey stresses the importance of negotiating on behalf of the employees for any changes in their working conditions and believes ignoring their voices is not good for the mission or employee engagement and productivity.

He also emphasizes the importance of having more dues-paying members to make the union stronger. The Town Hall covers various aspects of remote work agreements, including bargaining, MoUs, and telework policy changes. Listeners / viewers will also learn about the National VA Council, which handles bargaining agreements and policy changes on a national level, and local unions like Local 17, which handles local bargaining issues.

Video

In case you missed the video at the top of this article, you can also watch it here.

From the Town Hall

In our latest Town Hall, we discussed an important decision facing federal employees- whether to return to the office after a period of remote work brought on by the pandemic. The conversation highlighted how agencies such as the VA are grappling with the decision to bring people back while also addressing employee concerns and maintaining work-life balance.

We learned about the importance of bargaining, with the national VA council demanding to bargain over policy changes related to telework. The Town Hall also addressed the role of AFGE, the federal sector union representing more than 700,000 federal and DC government workers. We learned about AFGE’s efforts to protect employee rights, including negotiating for a collective bargaining agreement that secured employee benefits and protections.

We also heard from Doug Massey, president of AFGE Local 17, who emphasized the importance of paying dues to support union efforts and ensure Local 17’s continued success. He encouraged attendees to join the union and provided information on how to do so.

Guest Speaker Bio

Thomas Dargon, Jr. is a Supervisory Attorney in Washington, DC, who exclusively works for the National VA Council (NVAC), which represents about 300,000 VA employees across the country. He is a subject matter expert on VA issues, and his team of attorneys work on bargaining and national policy changes that impact the VA workforce. They negotiate the master collective bargaining agreement, and handle national grievances and unfair labor practices.

Thomas also supports local cases and some training responsibilities. He is involved in legislative oversight and mobilization, supporting initiatives on the ground at facilities, such as the current issue of telework. Recently, the National VA Council closed a deal on a tentative agreement after five and a half years of negotiation, and Thomas acknowledges the hard work of Local 17 and other sister unions who were involved in the fight.

Key topics and bullets

Topics Covered

  • The process of negotiating policy changes around remote work, including bargaining, exchanging proposals, and signing MoUs
  • The role and responsibilities of the National VA Council and AFGE in representing VA employees and handling national grievances, bargaining, and lobbying efforts
  • The decision to bring employees back to the office after a period of remote work and the impact on employee work-life balance and engagement
  • Employee rights and policies related to telework and working conditions, including the Green Book’s article on telework
  • The importance of union membership and dues-paying to support the union’s work

Key Points

  • Agencies must revise their remote work plans, and OPM will issue guidance triggering VA’s agency-specific policy.
  • The NVAC, as the national labor union, would demand to bargain over policies related to telework or remote work.
  • After exchanging proposals back and forth, a document called an MoU would be signed by the National Union.
  • AFGE has a team of attorneys handling national grievances, unfair labor practices, and collective bargaining and negotiation disputes.
  • The decision to bring people back to the office has caused anxiety due to the changes it will require in their lives.
  • The union will negotiate on behalf of the employees for any changes in their working conditions.
  • The success of the union’s negotiations is attributed to dues-paying members.
  • Telework is not an exclusive management right, and employees have the right to bargain over telework-related issues.
  • The speaker encourages union membership and provides information on how to join.

Notable Clips

Time stamps and descriptions of key points of the conversation

  • Understanding the National VA Council: “We work exclusively for the National VA Council. Abbreviated NVAC. We work just on VA issues. There’s about 300,000 employees at VA that we represent across the country…Those are the folks who we’re looking out for.”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:07:31 → 00:18:00]
  • Telework and Workforce Reentry: “Telework is not an exclusive management right. We can negotiate an MoU. It’s article 20 called telework. I’d encourage you to take a look at it and familiarize yourself on your rights under that article.”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:18:03 → 00:19:42]
  • Can Employers Communicate Directly with Employees About Working Conditions?: “It is what we call an unfair labor practice or a violation of the labor statute to communicate and deal directly with employees about working conditions, when instead the agency should be addressing those with your exclusive representative known as the union.”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:23:03 → 00:23:39]
  • “The Future of Remote Work in the VA: ‘I’m not sure. Again, it’ll depend on what VA does.'”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:23:49 → 00:24:12]
  • Telework Policy Implementation: “I think OPM will issue guidance that will then trigger VA to do their own agency specific policy… After that, we would then exchange proposals back and forth to ultimately get to that document that I referred to earlier called An MoU.”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:24:32 → 00:26:25]
  • “Record-Breaking Turnout at Local 17 Town Hall” : “This is the best lunchtime town hall attendance I’ve seen in years.”
    • Thomas Dargon [00:32:15 → 00:32:32]
  • The Impact of Remote Work on Life Changes: “The big one is no commute. I noticed. Didn’t have to go to the dry cleaner. I was able to actually do more work because I didn’t have the commute. I could work in sweatpants.”
    • Douglas Massey [00:00:17 → 00:07:31]
  • Importance of Dues for Union Members: “All these things that we do for everybody, this costs money… The more members we have, the stronger we are. And it would be very helpful.”
    • Douglas Massey [00:19:44 → 00:22:38]
  • Flexibility in the Workplace: “I think there’s a lot of ambivalence out there about doing this and definitely how to do it. And a lot of times when changing work and conditions, it’s not the what, it’s the how. I think if there’s responsible management, they’ll kind of allow flexibility. … But what I do is I get up really early, I do a couple of hours, and I come to your office. And I think flexibility used to be, well, how many days of telework are you doing? But if you have some commute like that and you can’t get your 8 hours in, really, can you put the time in, get your work done? That’s what it’s all about.”
    • Douglas Massey [00:26:31 → 00:32:15]
  • “Effective Communication in the Workplace: ‘Email me your concerns and we’ll try to get back within a 24 hours period.'”
    • Douglas Massey [00:32:32 → 00:32:53]
  • “Executive Board Meetings: Maybe the executive board wants to discuss that. A lot of times people are hesitant because it’s they can see who was at the meeting and who wasn’t. But we will definitely fill you in if you send me an email, I can send you that link.”
    • Douglas Massey [00:33:07 → 00:33:19]

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