NEGOTIATING COVID-19 IMPACT ISSUES
Once our President has completed his Clorox Chewables treatments we can expect him to order the feds to head back to the office—if for no other reason than he needs that PR to boost the pressure on governors who insist on listening to scientists about when to reopen. Unions can expect a lot of members to be very unhappy about this, especially where Trump orders them to get on the local roads despite their governor’s orders to continue to shelter. Assuming no federal union figures out how to get a judge to overturn the President’s order because he lacks the authority to override rules about state and local roads, it will be up the union’s negotiators to go to the table to soften the impact on unit employees. Although we won’t say where we got them from, here are some of the bargaining interests unions are likely to pursue.
- Establishing proper social distances in the work area as well as in work support areas such as the cafeteria, e.g., expanding rights to AWS and telework, offering staggered shifts etc.,
- Providing masks for those who fail to bring their own,
- Providing hand sanitizer throughout the workplace,
- Allowing employees time to sanitize their workstations each day, especially if it is shared with others,
- Establishing proper procedures for using office equipment shared with others, e.g., copiers, printers, etc.,
- Accommodating those employees with a CDC-identified pre-existing condition that increase vulnerability to the disease,
- Establishing procedures for sending employees home and for testing if they exhibit any of the CDC-identified symptoms, e.g., admin leave,
- Requiring immediate notice to employees in the building and unit if anyone tests positive for the virus,
- Giving those who have had the virus admin leave to donate plasma,
- Liberalization of existing telework rights, especially for those with CDC-recognized pre-existing conditions or who live with those who have the virus,
- Accommodations for those still recovering from the virus,
- Providing parking to those who previously carpooled or used public transportation-and other accommodations,
- Permitting employees to eat in areas other than the cafeteria,
- Permitting employees to attend group meetings via Zoom or other online media,
- Establishing extra protections for employees from members of the public they must deal with.
Agencies are likely to refuse to recognize a return to work order as a change over which they must negotiate. That will force unions to use their own midterm right to negotiate irrespective of whether there is an agreed agency-initiated change.
It is also unlikely that agencies will postpone reopening until these midterm agreements have been negotiated. Consequently, unions also will be addressing a retroactive application of certain of the rights they eventually establish through negotiations. For example, if the union establishes it is the responsibility of the employer to provide masks when employees occasionally forget them, it could demand that those who had to take leave to retrieve a personal mask before they were admitted to the office before the agreement was signed should not be reimbursed for the leave time,
Agencies would be wise to develop back-to-work plans that anticipate these issues.