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NAPE members win bid, for now, to stop governor’s unilateral return to office order

Photo credit: NAPE (AFSCME Local 61)
NAPE members win bid, for now, to stop governor’s unilateral return to office order
By Ezra Kane-Salafia ·
Tags: Priorities

The Nebraska Association of Public Employees (AFSCME Local 61) has successfully blocked — for now — Gov. Jim Pillen’s unilateral return-to-office executive order that would’ve ended telework for more than 2,000 state workers as of Jan. 2.

On Nov. 13, Pillen unilaterally changed workplace policy for Nebraska state employees — ordering hundreds of full-time remote workers and more than a thousand hybrid workers back to offices 100% of the time, permanently. The order would have upended the lives thousands of Nebraska state employees, many of whom have made decisions about their lives and family based on remote work.

Members of NAPE demanded to negotiate over the matter, saying the order was illegal and return to office is a mandatory subject of bargaining. They filed a petition with the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR) on Dec. 13 to block the order and force the governor’s office to negotiate with them.

On Dec. 29, the CIR ruled in NAPE members’ favor, granting their motion for temporary relief. The order halts the implementation of the executive order while NAPE’s case is pending. The order states that the status quo must be maintained, where agencies operate under their remote work policies as they did just before the governor issued the order.

“Our founders fought for 15 years from 1972-1987 to win the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment through the State Employees Collective Bargaining Act. By refusing to negotiate with us, the state is in violation of the law, and we must defend our rights that we fought so hard to earn,” NAPE leaders told members in an email.

Despite the CIR's ruling, some agencies are still recalling teleworking employees. That’s why, on Thursday, NAPE members asked a district court to enforce the ruling and hold the state in contempt.

NAPE members argue that the unilateral return-to-work order is harmful to Nebraska state employees and Nebraska residents as a whole. When state agencies are struggling to stay fully staffed, ending remote work would put them at a distinct disadvantage against private employers.

Years of organizing, growing their union and building power meant that NAPE members were ready to fight back with more than just words and legal filings.

On Dec. 7, hundreds of NAPE members rallied for a day of action and a press conference at the State Capitol in Lincoln to share the results of a remote work survey of nearly 1,700 state employees. The survey found that the State of Nebraska could lose 16% of its workforce should the order be enforced. NAPE members again demanded to bargain over the issue.

NAPE members are demonstrating real power. And the people of Nebraska are paying attention. News outlets across the state have covered the battle. The McCook Gazette, for instance, published an editorial supporting NAPE members in their fight.

NAPE members also aren’t standing by and waiting to see if Pillen changes his mind. They’re organizing to win. With communications, site visits and organizing actions, NAPE members have signed up more than 230 of their fellow employees as members in the wake of Pillen’s order.

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