10 BARGAINING ISSUES AROUND PHASED RETIREMENT
Now that OPM has finally issued regulations to implement the phased retirement program (PRP), it is time for unions to prepare bargaining demands. Here are some that would be on our list.
Where Will the Program Be Used– Is this only going to be used to give non-unit managers and executives a comfortable way to transition into retirement or will be there bargaining units slots available as well? (Although we are not going to comment on the negotiability of demanding a PRP be implemented for unit employees, we recommend that unions watch out for only non-unit employees being appointed to the program slots but then performing traditional bargaining unit work in the PRP slot. If employee mentoring was unit work before, it must remain unit work until the agency notifies the union of a change and bargains.)
Who Will Be Chosen and How– If an agency does decide to implement a program for which unit employees are eligible, what process will be used to make the selections? Will it be done competitively or may seniority be used, as if an employee already in a position was merely be assigned to perform duties in a different location or on a different shift? If mentoring is involved, should the employees to be mentored be given a role? Should additional selection criteria be used, such as whether the employee was ever a classroom or on-the-job instructor? (Note that the regs urge agencies to adopt transparent criteria for the program.) Should there be waiting lists? Should employees be told why they were passed over? Should this be used as a reasonable accommodation for those with disability or religious needs?
How Long Should the PRP Assignment Last– The regs leave that up to the employee and manager, but nothing bars the union from having a role in that discussion. In fact, it may constitute an illegal bypass for an agency to work out a PRP agreement directly with an employee if there is a union present. The best solution here might be to let the employee and supervisor work out an initial time period, but then give the union review authority over that decision. After all, if the agency is going to change a full-time position to a PRP half-time slot, the working conditions of that employees group or unit might change triggering a bargaining right. The remaining employees in the group might have to pick up the slack left by the employee going into the PRP.
How Much Time Must be Devoted to Mentoring– The regs say that it must be at least 20% of the time, but they leave open how much more can be mentoring time. The union should be interested because the more the PRP participants are limited to 20% mentoring the more PRP slots there are likely to be. (It may also be necessary to spell out precisely what is considered mentoring.)
Work Schedules– The typical PRP employee will be working only 20 hours a week or 40 a pay period. Does the union want a role in deciding what days/hours the employee will work?
How Will the Mentoring Work Be Evaluated– We assume that most agencies do not have formal mentoring work today. Consequently, some may need to create performance standards for evaluating the work.
Impact on Other Work Performed– Should an employee selected for a PRP slot be allowed to continue to perform the same kind of work he/she did before selection. For example, if the employee traditionally did one type of casework for the agency, must he do something else to get the PRP slot. Will she be allowed to continue to serve as a union rep, EEO counselor, etc?
Impact on Telework, AWS and Similar Benefits– In some contracts there are a limited number of slots available for employees to work these programs. Should employees who move to a PRP schedule be required to give up their entitlement to a telework or AWS slot or even preferred shift? How about participation in the performance award pool or higher graded duty grievance opportunities? What about when leave requests conflict?
Notification of the Union– Although the statute may already require this, unions should pay attention to what the agency will tell them and when as the PRP program is rolled out. For example, should unions be notified when extensions of original agreements are reached, given copies of any PRP agreements, or notified when the agency requires an employee to work what the regs call “excess hours,” etc.
Dues Withholding– While this is not something the union must negotiate with an agency, it probably is something it should address in advance at the national and local level.
If there are other issues we have missed, and there likely are because no one has done this yet, please send your thoughts our way by making a comment below.