The EEOC is violating labor law by unilaterally changing its safety plan and doubling the days workers must come to the office, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed by the union representing agency employees.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent changes require employees to work at the office at least twice a week, abandoning a previous one-day-a-week policy, the union said. The agency also abandoned a 25% capacity occupancy restriction that both parties agreed to, according to the charge.
Wednesday’s filing marks the fourth unfair labor practice charge the American Federation of Government Employees Council 216 has filed over the EEOC’s return-to-office strategy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The past three ULPs similarly alleged that the EEOC implemented changes to Covid protocol without negotiating with the union.
“This unilateral change is substantially impacting working conditions, including the health and safety of the workplace, as exposure incidents are occurring in numerous offices, including those in high transmission areas,” an AFGE spokesperson said in a statement.
According to the union, the parties agreed to a safety plan and accompanying memorandum of understanding, both of which state that EEOC workplaces should be at no more than 25% capacity during periods of “high community transmission,” as calculated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The EEOC currently has 15 offices in areas considered to have high Covid transmission and 20 in areas with medium transmission, according to the union.
Before the announced protocol change, AFGE Council 216 President Rachel Shonfield sent EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows two letters dated May 27 and June 3, urging executives to “prioritize safety” and “follow the science.” There has been no response, the union said.
“The EEOC refers to itself as the ‘model employer,’ and it’s very disappointing to the EEOC’s own workforce—who is fighting for the rights of America’s workers—to then find their own rights trampled on,” Shonfield told Bloomberg Law. “Our bargaining unit is represented by the union and the agency has bargaining obligations with the union.”
“Occupancy limits based on transmission levels have not been in effect since the fall of 2021″ per federal guidelines, EEOC spokesman Victor Chen said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “However, physical distancing guidelines remain in effect. EEOC headquarters and field office staff are able to physically distance with the current one-day-per-week schedule and that will continue to be possible once staff begin returning to the office two days per week.”
The agency monitors Covid transmission levels at EEOC headquarters and each of its 53 field offices and provides weekly updates to agency staff, Chen said. The EEOC also requires masks when community levels are high, regardless of vaccination status, and has a Covid testing program for individuals who aren’t vaccinated, he said.
“While EEOC employees have continued to work diligently throughout the pandemic, it is important that the EEOC reopen our doors, reestablish our physical presence in the communities we serve, and provide critical services to vulnerable employees and applicants who most need our help,” Chen said. “Throughout the reentry process, we will continue to work to protect the health and safety of the EEOC’s dedicated employees and the American public.”