NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The plan to bring state workers back to the office has been delayed until next month. However, workers and their union representatives argue that isn’t enough time and that the state’s plan isn’t a plan at all.
Concerns about returning to the office range from not enough office space to personal issues for employees, like finding childcare and having long commutes.
The Communications Workers of America Union’s local branch President Dan Secrist said many state workers are confused about the new plan for employees to come back to the office.
“People are having no luck finding adjustments to their childcare needs if they have to come into the office, and these are people that are – by the nature of their work – they don’t need to be in the office. They work in front of the computer, on the phone,” Secrist explained.
Secrist said state officials suddenly repealed the telework policy on November 29 and instructed employees to return on January 3. Agencies simply weren’t ready. They’ve already negotiated a delay until February but said that’s still not enough time.
Secrist said, “We had managers telling us, ‘I have no place to put these folks.’ We gave up the office space that these positions would have been assigned to originally.”
Secrist believes the sudden change was the result of this Legislative Finance Committee meeting in November where Dept. of General Services Cabinet Secretary John Garcia talked about excessive empty office space and how much it was costing the state.
“People are going to come back to work. FMD has not taken any space away from anybody that was teleworking because telework is temporary. So, people are going to come back, the buildings will be used to, hopefully, capacity,” Garcia said at the meeting.
On the other side of the coin, Secrist claimed some positions were advertised and hired as telework positions.
“They have people in remote locations that they were hired during the telework phase with the understanding that they would be teleworking, who now are basically a hundred mile or more commute.”
Secrist said they feel there should have been a negotiation per their contract, and it feels, in many cases, teleworking is just as effective as being in an actual office. He also thinks this change could push people away from working for the state in the midst of the ongoing staffing crisis, “This is a complete reversal of what we already had agreed to, we had a good policy in place it allowed flexibility to meet the needs of the job for people.”
We asked the governor’s office for a response to these concerns. The Director of the State Personnel Office Teresa Padilla said they are trying to balance being a productive and flexible workplace with the needs of New Mexicans which necessitates being accessible to the public. They also say they’re working closely with the agencies to ensure there is adequate office space by February 2.
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The state said, as of December 23, about 34% of state employees were utilizing teleworking options, most only part-time. We did ask if some jobs were advertised and hired as pure teleworking, but they did not answer that question.