Update on House Action on Anti-Federal Employee Measure

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The House of Representatives considered and passed, by a vote of 241-181, a measure that contained several federal workforce items opposed by NTEU. The measure, H.R. 4361, packaged several existing bills that were reported out favorably by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform earlier this year, and which I have shared with you. The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy that the President would veto this measure.

Title I of the newly-introduced measured would prohibit collective bargaining on information technology (IT) access issues such as employee access to personal e-mail and web sites in the workplace. Originally introduced by Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL), this section of the bill seeks to exempt from collective bargaining requirements any agency head action limiting access to any web site the agency determines presents a current or possible future security weakness to its information systems. By law, federal employee labor organizations cannot bargain over the substance of an agency’s IT decision or action, only its impact and implementation. Further, current law also already allows agencies to take immediate action without bargaining in an emergency.

Title III of the bill, originally introduced as H.R. 3023 by Representative Ken Buck (R-CO), would extend the current one-year probationary period to two years for new employees hired into the competitive service. Additionally, the two-year probationary period would begin only after any required training for the position, meaning that some employees might serve for several years — or even indefinitely — without actually completing a probationary period depending on how individual agencies interpret the bill’s undefined “formal training” for various positions which remains unclear.

Title V of the bill, originally introduced by Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) as H.R. 4392, would require a detailed annual report from the Office of Personnel Management on agencies’ use of official time for employees performing union representational activities. The bill would require each agency to annually report the total amount of official time granted, the total number of employees provided with official time, as well as the specific types of activities and purpose for which the official time was provided, as well as the resulting impact on agency operations. Additionally, the report would require agencies to report the total square footage of any provided union space. While this measure does not eliminate or place actual limits or restrictions on official time (nor does it require the reporting of individual names of employees who are granted official time), NTEU opposes legislative attempts designed to ultimately restrict and eliminate official time.

NTEU opposes these anti-employee and anti-labor provisions, and will work with allies on Capitol Hill to keep them from being enacted. Rather than spending their time attacking federal employees, Congress should instead be working to fully fund agencies with so few legislative days remaining before the end of the upcoming fiscal year.

FLSA Settlement Update Covering ACF Head Start Program Specialists

Although our chapter only represents FDA, I share this representational information because of ongoing concerns on this subject in our chapter.

As you know, NTEU and HHS reached a settlement agreement on January 16, 2015, under which Head Start Program Specialists were to be reclassified as covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the law governing overtime compensation in the federal sector. Under the settlement, eligible Head Start employees will receive back pay going back several years for improperly compensated overtime plus liquidated damages.

Although Head Start employees were reclassified last year, there has been a series of problems with implementation of the January 2015 settlement. The delays were due, in significant part, to mistakes that HHS has made as well as to HHS receiving incomplete overtime data from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). As of today, HHS informed NTEU that it still does not have all the information it needs from DFAS to process complete back pay payments to Head Start employees.

NTEU strongly believes that affected Head Start Program Specialists should not have to wait any longer for back pay payments to which they are entitled under the settlement. NTEU thus filed a motion with the arbitrator assigned to the parties’ FLSA grievance, seeking an order requiring HHS to:

  1. Prepare statements showing how much back pay each affected Head Start Program Specialist is owed based on the data HHS has received so far and 
  2. Pay the covered employees what they are owed based on the data HHS has received. 

 HHS initially objected to NTEU’s proposal but, at the arbitrator’s urging, the agency has now agreed to issue interim statements and back pay payments to eligible employees. Once HHS receives the missing data from DFAS, it will issue supplemental statements and payments to employees, as warranted.

Statements have started going out to current employees via e-mail. Former employees will receive their statements via U.S. mail. Detailed information about how, and when, employees should expect their back pay payments as well as liquidated damages will be provided in a joint HHS-NTEU memo that will accompany the statements.

It is important to note that the initial statements will be based on incomplete data. Specifically, they will be missing credit hours that covered employees may have earned over the last several years. HHS does not have the credit hours data yet. Employees who have concerns about the missing credit hours data, or who otherwise feel these initial statements are inaccurate, do not have to file a claim now. Covered employees must wait until they receive the second (supplemental) statement before filing any claim challenging the agency’s calculations. The second statement will likely take several more months to prepare and distribute. Once employees receive that second statement, they will then have thirty (30) days to file a claim, if necessary. Although covered employees do not have to worry about filing any claim right now, if they have documentation that they think might eventually assist in demonstrating their right to compensation for overtime hours worked, they should collect and keep such documentation now.

Chapter presidents will separately be receiving soon a spreadsheet with the names of Head Start Program Specialists covered by the settlement with the amount of back pay they are expected to receive shortly. The employees will also receive a matching amount of liquidated damages. To reiterate, these are interim payments, and many employees will receive an additional payment at a later time. This spreadsheet should be kept confidential and not distributed. However, it may be useful to chapter presidents in responding to questions.

It is welcome news that affected Head Start Program Specialists who received improperly compensated overtime will finally be receiving some relief — relief that comes as a direct result of NTEU’s work and perseverance.

Please contact your NTEU Chapter Representative if you have any questions.