A Fight Over FDA Travel Changes

November/December 2016 NTEU Bulletin
November/December 2016 NTEU Bulletin

Reprinted from the November/December 2016 NTEU Bulletin.

It is not uncommon for federal employees to go the distance to get the job done.

For some, that distance is simply a lot farther away. In the case of NTEU members at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it may mean a trip to China, parts of Europe, or South America to inspect plants and factories involved with food and products destined for the U.S. market.

On a trip that can exceed 14 hours of travel, federal law and the NTEU contract have provisions allowing upgrades for airline seats so employees can be better prepared to get right to work when they arrive. When the FDA started improperly denying business class accommodations to NTEU-represented employees, the union filed a national grievance. Inspections of foreign sites involves more than walking through a factory. FDA inspectors can visit farms, review records, inspect manufacturing and generally take a long and thorough look at how the food is being grown, handled and processed before it is shipped to the United States. Many countries do not have the same high standards that the U.S. does and it is the job of these inspectors to ensure that anything being distributed in this country meets American standards.

Official travelGiven the often grueling nature of these inspections NTEU believes it is unacceptable for FDA to improperly dismiss requests for business class by not including the portions of domestic travel toward the 14-hour rule—as allowed under the federal travel regulations and language in the NTEU contract.

FDA did not stop there. The agency unilaterally changed its internal staff guide to require an employee to provide receipts for certain miscellaneous expenses even if the value is below the $75 threshold set by the contract and law.

Then the FDA made a third unilateral adjustment to its staff guide, changing definitions and procedures for submitting actual expense reports and seeking lodging deposits. These changes were not negotiated with NTEU and are not consistent with the language in the contract and law.

UPDATE: Faced with NTEU’s grievances, the FDA backed down and rescinded all three changes it had imposed. Inspectors can now travel more easily and be prepared to hit the ground running.

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