Education employee union seeks to halt telework changes

 In Politics

EDUCATION EMPLOYEE UNION SEEKS TO HALT TELEWORK CHANGES: Education Department employees who want to work remotely have until Aug. 15 to sign an agreement indicating they’ll limit their telework to just one day a week, according to a document obtained by Morning Education. The deadline has prompted the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Education Department workers, to take new action against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The agency first told employees in May that it’s limiting the number of days staffers can telework — a change set to take effect in October. The rollback is similar to telework changes at the Agriculture Department and represents a departure from the Obama era, when such benefits were viewed as a way to attract and retain employees and reduce traffic congestion.

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“It’s like they’re being held for ransom,” said AFGE Deputy General Counsel Cathie McQuiston. “Do you want to telework? Sign this, even though it totally destroys your life.” The Aug. 15 deadline was included in an updated a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” about the new telework policy sent to agency employees this week.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said agency employees typically recertify their telework arrangements on an annual basis, often in July or August, and that it’s “not a new requirement.” The FAQ document says the policy is changing because the agency “desires a greater physical presence in its offices to enhance collaboration … and strengthen our delivery of customer service internally and externally.” More physical presence will also help the Education Department as it looks to reorganize and consolidate offices, the document says.

But AFGE has been fighting the telework changes on behalf of employees who relied on the flexibility to work more often from home. The union filed an amended unfair labor practice charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority on Wednesday, alleging that the Education Department has refused to bargain over the telework requirements. And in light of the mid-August deadline, the union is asking a regional director for the FLRA to halt the telework policy. Hill said the department “has no comment on the pending legal case.”

AFGE has also been fighting new worker requirements imposed by the Education Department on employees earlier this year. That agreement sought to curb when union officials can perform representational tasks while working at the department, forcing them to request leave without pay in advance to conduct union-related work. And it canceled provisions from earlier contracts that outlined pay raises, performance evaluations, overtime, child care and work schedules.

Federal mediators recently suggested that the department may have imposed the new work requirements illegally, The New York Times reported. But the FLRA, which investigates and resolves government-labor disputes, doesn’t have a general counsel. And as a result, it can’t issue decisions that would lead to formal charges or litigation.

That’s not deterring AFGE. Until the Education Department agrees “to go back to the table and bargain a lawful agreement, we will literally litigate every single thing,” McQuiston said.

GOOD THURSDAY MORNING, AUG. 2. If you’re a fan of the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, then you should tune into “Making It” on NBC. It’s basically the same show, but with Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman and crafting instead of baking. The only downside is that you can’t binge-watch it. Talk to me: [email protected] or @caitlinzemma. Send events to: [email protected] And follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

NEXT WEEK IN SCHOOL SAFETY: A White House commission studying the issue will hold its third “listening session” in Cheyenne, Wyo. Federal officials will hear from representatives of state and local governments during the daylong event, in addition to members of the public. Previous listening sessions have been held in Washington, D.C., and Lexington, Ky. The Trump administration launched the Federal Commission on School Safety following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. Details.

“We are thrilled the U.S. Department of Education chose Wyoming as one of four locations for these public listening sessions,” Wyoming state schools chief Jillian Balow said in a statement. “Important conversations are happening at the local, state, and federal level about school safety and security, and it’s our privilege to assist educators and communities in keeping students safe and supporting them in every way that we can.”

Did the Education Department hear critics? The National Disability Rights Network recently sent DeVos a letter raising concerns that the D.C. and Kentucky listening sessions were publicized only 24 hours in advance. The advocacy group for individuals with disabilities asked for at least one week’s notice so interested members of the public can fully participate. The upcoming Wyoming session was publicized with nearly one week’s notice.

NRDN spokesman David Card said the group didn’t hear from the department after sending its letter. “We are pleased to see that ED made an effort to give more notice for the event in WY but it was still less than the week we recommended in our letter,” Card wrote in an email.

Speaking of school safety: The Education Department is accepting applications for competitive grants to states that want to better help school districts develop plans in the event of an emergency. More.

** A message from Navient: Income-driven repayment options have helped drive double-digit decreases in student loan delinquency and default rates, but as a result, it takes longer to repay and some borrowers see growing balances. Read Navient CEO Jack Remondi’s five common-sense solutions to improve borrower outcomes and address the underlying issues fueling student debt: http://bit.ly/2LE3WGo **

‘MARCH FOR OUR LIVES’ STUDENTS HEAD TO CHARLOTTESVILLE: Student activists on a nationwide “March for Our Lives” bus tour against gun violence will hold a town hall event Friday in Charlottesville, Va. — the site of violent white supremacist demonstrations about a year ago. The students are looking to “register people to vote, speak out against gun violence and talk about the importance of taking our communities back from the NRA,” according to a release.

The participating students come from Parkland, Fla., and from cities affected by gun violence across the country. They’re expected to march on the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va., on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post analysis of voter registration data “finds hardly any change in the overall share of registered voters ages 18 to 29 since the Parkland shootings,” indicating it’s unlikely that young voters will sway the midterms. More.

WAS BOB CASEY SNUBBED BY THE WHITE HOUSE? PennLive.com reports that the Pennsylvania Democrat was left off the invite list for the White House signing ceremony of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, H.R. 2353 (115), on Tuesday. Casey was a key figure in reauthorizing the legislation and the White House invited other Democrats and Republicans who worked on the bill.

Bob Casey is also running for a third term this fall against Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump. Casey spokeswoman Jacklin Rhoads told PennLive that it’s unfortunate the Trump administration was “[playing] politics” with the bill signing. The White House didn’t respond to Morning Education’s request for comment. More from PennLive.com.

SESSIONS: IT’S UP TO SCHOOLS WHETHER TO ARM STAFF: Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited an Arkansas school district Wednesday that’s embraced the arming of trained school staff, but he held off from extended praise of the notion despite Trump’s endorsement. At a Federal Commission on School Safety event, he said “there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing school shootings” and that states and school districts should have the “flexibility and discretion” to “decide how to handle these situations.” More.

Sessions also said anyone who carries a gun in school for student protection deserves respect. “We have people who say, ‘I don’t want to carry a gun in a school,’” he said. “But the person who does is going by themselves into a very dangerous situation, not knowing what’s behind that door, and we expect them and ask them to place their lives on the line for students. They know that when they sign up, and we should always be respectful and appreciative of their service.”

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