Union calls for FDIC to ‘follow the law’ after pivot on return-to-office plans

FDIC announced that staff will have to work in the office two days a week, but NTEU is pushing the agency to continue resolving a monthslong telework dispute.

Employees at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), many of whom are currently working in the office one day per week, are about to see changes in their work environment.

When hammering out return-to-office plans, like many other federal agencies, FDIC had initially planned to require employees to report to the office three days per week beginning later this summer. But late last week, FDIC instead pivoted and announced that employees will have to come into the office just two days per week starting on July 15, FDIC confirmed to Federal News Network. Once implemented, the new telework arrangements will remain in effect until further notice.

Although the in-office requirements are lower than initially expected, the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents FDIC employees, is pushing the agency’s leadership to return to the drawing board. Vivian Hwa, president of NTEU Chapter 207, is calling for the agency to continue working to resolve the already monthslong bargaining dispute over telework, rather than move forward with the announced changes.

Months prior to making its return-to-office announcement, FDIC had opened negotiations over the telework provision included in its collective bargaining agreement with NTEU. During those negotiations, FDIC proposed its initial three-days-per-week policy.

“We were in the middle of negotiations, we were in front of an impasse panel trying to come up with a new agreement — and then they yanked their proposal,” Hwa, whose NTEU chapter represents employees at FDIC headquarters, said in an interview with Federal News Network.

But after a long stretch of time and no signs of approaching an agreement, NTEU got in touch with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) earlier this year asking for assistance. FSIP, an independent entity within the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), helps agencies and unions resolve disputes that arise during labor-management negotiations.

FSIP had agreed to work with both NTEU and FDIC to help the two parties reach an agreement ahead of the July 15 deadline, Hwa said. But FDIC then withdrew its proposal to change the telework provision in the collective bargaining agreement. NTEU called FDIC’s announcement of the two-day in-office requirement a “unilateral decision” that involved bad faith negotiating.

“This step shows a lack of respect for the statutory process and FDIC employees,” NTEU National President Doreen Greenwald said in a statement. “Ignoring the bargaining process and illegally imposing new telework requirements will make that a much more difficult process … NTEU has asked the FSIP to retain jurisdiction over this bargaining dispute and will fight to ensure the agency follows the law and completes the bargaining process.”

FDIC declined to comment on the reason behind its decision to make a return-to-office announcement and rescind its previous proposal.

According to FDIC’s new telework policy announcement obtained by Federal News Network, FDIC divisions and offices will individually designate one of the two in-office days each week. Employees will coordinate with their supervisors to schedule the second in-office day. Supervisors will also still be able to schedule in-office work during “core hours,” which run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. local time. Outside of those core hours, employees have flexibility to work from home part of the day, if needed.

The updated in-office requirements apply to most teleworking employees, but don’t apply to any staff working at field offices, along with a handful of other exempt groups.

After the changes take place in July, FDIC plans to monitor effects on the workplace culture as well employee engagement, morale and productivity.

But Hwa said the lack of clarity over some details of FDIC’s telework decision is only leading to more confusion for the workforce.

“All we can do is read the emails and what they’re telling us, but at the same time, we’re like, ‘What is this? What are you saying?'” Hwa said. “On top of that, they’re no longer negotiating, which was confusing to everybody because we all thought that [was] the purpose of the July deadline.”

The debate over FDIC’s telework posture also comes as the agency faces low morale and recruitment challenges as a result of recent reports describing a toxic workplace environment. An independent report published earlier this year details cases of stalking, harassment, homophobia and other violations of employment regulations based on more than 500 employee complaints.

Given the recent workforce challenges stemming from the reports, Hwa said she is especially worried about the return-to-office changes.

“People just don’t feel safe to return to the office,” Hwa said. “They haven’t had anything in place yet that really lets us feel safe.”

FDIC also ranked 25 out of 26 midsize agencies in the 2023 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings from the Partnership for Public Service.

“The FDIC has much work to do in regaining the trust of its workforce,” NTEU’s Greenwald said.

NTEU is now calling on FDIC leadership to return to the initial dispute resolution process and move forward with FSIP’s services.

“A lot of employees made significant life decisions based on their ability to telework, and assurances from FDIC that they were going to negotiate these things [with NTEU] and come to an agreement on something that is reasonable and acceptable to the employees,” Hwa said. “But they didn’t do that. This telework change is going to increase retirements and employee departures at a time when FDIC really can’t recruit and retain everybody that they need.”

Hwa said whatever the telework policy is moving forward, it should reflect the work that employees are actually doing.

“If you need us to come in for a particular work product, that is fine with us, we do not mind. But to say you need to come in so that you can sit in your office and do the same Microsoft Teams calls to everybody else who’s also calling, it just doesn’t seem to make sense,” Hwa said. “The point is, let’s talk about this and come up with something that works best for us.”

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