The union representing the Economic Research Service (ERS) -- American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – reported Monday that it has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on provisions designed to mitigate some of the impact of the forced relocation of employees at ERS and the National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region.
USDA spokesman said in an emailed statement to Feedstuffs, “This agreement reflects the secretary’s commitment to ‘Do Right’ by our employees. It is consistent with several terms in employee’s relocation orders and is consistent with the department’s commitment to ensure employees have access to available resources.”
AFGE said under the agreements signed by both parties, employees at ERS and NIFA who agree to relocate to Kansas City will receive incentive payments equal to one month’s salary. “This is to help compensate for the loss of income incurred by employees moving from the costlier [Washington] D.C. area,” AFGE said.
However, a statement from a USDA spokesman said the agreement “does not address bonuses or confirm blanket bonuses. The agreement states that the agency agrees to request approval to offer relocation incentives for roles deemed difficult to fill and are not tied to an employees’ hardship requests.”
AFGE said the agreement will allow staff to work remotely through at least Dec. 30, with the possibility for extensions. The agency initially told employees they must relocate by Sept. 30.
The USDA spokesman clarified that, contrary to public reports, the agencies have not made blanket promises that all affected employees be granted the ability to telework. “The agreement provides that requests for telework and other workplace flexibilities will be considered on an individual, case-by-case basis,” he added.
AFGE said the agreement will give the ERS employees until Sept. 27 to change their minds on whether they will be relocating. USDA had previously given employees until July 15 to decide. Some employees who previously declined the reassignment have already received notices of proposed removal.
The USDA spokesman said the department “has not delayed its report date to Kansas City of Sept. 30 and is currently onboarding new and relocating employees at the Beacon Complex.”
The negotiations also continue with NIFA, the USDA spokesman confirmed.