We were pleased to have such a high turnout at our Remote Work Negotiations Update Webinar on May 6th. While 500 ESC members attended our webinar discussing the status and outlook of Remote Work negotiations, we know many more who wanted the information could not. This recap covers the information presented during the webinar and is up to date as of May 12, 2021.
Monthly Employees: Our Contract already has provisions for exempt employees to work remotely. “Exempt” refers to employees who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act; they are also called “monthly” or “salaried” employees. Roughly 1,000 out of ESC’s 4,000 members at PG&E are exempt. The current contract language, Section 7.9, says that monthly employees need supervisor permission for remote work and that they must follow PG&E’s policies for remote working. It is very short and provides no details.
Hourly Employees: Until 2019, PG&E did not permit hourly-paid employees to work remotely. We know that members have wanted this option for a long time, and ESC has proposed it many times. In response, PG&E sought waivers to overtime (paying less OT to employees working remotely) and language that could have resulted in discipline for those employees. The issue never moved any further since ESC was unwilling to compromise our contract standards for a limited benefit of remote working for hourly members.
COVID-19 Pandemic: When COVID and the stay-at-home orders went into effect, PG&E changed its position on remote work dramatically. As you recall, PG&E was helpful and responsive when the pandemic began, and the majority of ESC members shifted to remote work. They accepted almost all of our requests, like providing the 10% extra pay and the Time Off With Permission With Pay to parents whose children’s schools were closed and not requiring those employees to use vacation time.
A big part of the success was thanks to you — our members. You showed that you could get the work done remotely, and in many cases, productivity even increased during the pandemic. You impressed the entire management of PG&E with your dedication and work ethic, which is undoubtedly the most significant factor in PG&E’s new willingness to extend Remote Work beyond the end of the pandemic.
In November, we surveyed the membership regarding working from home, which had a very high response rate of 59%. The main takeaway was that most members want to continue working remotely: nearly half would like to work from home full time, and 85% want to work from home three days a week or more. However, we recognize that remote work is a hardship for some, and they very much would like to return to the office.
ESC formed an excellent committee, composed of members from different work areas and union staff, to negotiate with PG&E on long-term remote work options.
John Mader, Electric DE, Sacramento
Joel Foster, Electric ADE, San Rafael
Rene Vasquez, Sr. Electric Estimator, Fresno
Carl Harland, SNBR/Sr Gas Estimator, Chico
Roberto Gonzalez-Ramos, Sr. Substation Engr, Bishop Ranch
Chuck Nunes, Elec ADE, Concord
Caitlin Kniazewycz, Principal Gas Mapper, San Ramon
Frankie Preciado, ESC Local 20 Executive Director
Josh Sperry, Senior Union Representative
What Are We Bargaining? Working towards a “Framework Agreement”
Our committee is working to establish a “Framework Agreement” with PG&E. The agreement will not determine precisely how often employees can work remotely, but it will develop important parameters and rules for how PG&E will allow remote working in the future. Here are the main points under discussion:
- Equitability. Ensure opportunities for remote work are as equitable as possible, with exceptions for business needs — for example, if employees need to do training in-person, those mentors and trainers may not be able to work from home as much as other employees.
- OT Meals. The company wants to take away meal reimbursement and 30-minute payment for missed meals on overtime for those working remotely. PG&E proposed an unpaid 30 minutes meal break only. ESC is pushing to maintain our regular contract terms for overtime meals, whether working remotely or not.
- Emergency Overtime. The company proposed to prioritize EOT calls to remote workers. ESC has not agreed.
- Travel time. The company proposed reducing travel time to other locations by the employee’s usual commute when working remotely. ESC is maintaining that our normal contract provisions should apply.
- Camera usage. The company wants to reserve the right to require employees to turn on their cameras. ESC has expressed concern about supervisors wanting to “watch their employees work” all day. The company has assured us they will include clarification on that point.
- “Return to office.” We are working on the process for when business needs require an employee working remotely to come into the office on short notice — for example, if there is a need to have an urgent meeting with a customer, vendor, or public agency.
- Temporary alternative remote work location. This provision would allow employees to work remotely from a location that is not their home (or other regular remote work location) and potentially not commutable to their regular HQ but still in-state. In these cases, the employee would not have an obligation to report to the office on short notice. It would require advance permission from the supervisor.
What We Are Not Bargaining
We want to be clear about what is within the scope of these negotiations, so no one expects a broader settlement than what we can achieve in the final agreement. It is very important members understand what will not be part of this agreement.
- How much remote work. We are not negotiating a blanket policy that sets a standard amount of remote work — for example, “all employees are permitted to work a minimum of 3 days per week.” The agreement will say that each workgroup will determine the schedule and amount of remote work; this could be by the Supervisor, Manager, or Director, depending on how management sets it up. However, we know that PG&E is keen to offer real options in this area because of the pressure to attract and retain workers. The world has changed, and we are glad that PG&E has noticed and is responding.
- Working out of state. PG&E’s current policy does not favor employees working out of state, except with very limited exceptions — for example, employees in Government Relations located in Washington DC who lobby the federal government. ESC is not seeking to change this. Remember that we are a California company, we serve our communities, and we all got hired into our current jobs because we live here. In general, employees need to return to the worksite as needed for staff meetings, training, etc. To protect our job security, we do not want to open the door to PG&E hiring from outside of California or the country. Lastly, there is a concern that if an employee is far away and they get disciplined or dismissed, it would be difficult to represent them. For all these reasons, it is in our best interest not to negotiate any provisions for employees to be regularly located outside of California.
- Paying for utility bills. ESC already proposed that PG&E pay some share of remote employees’ utility bills since the employee is essentially paying to heat or cool their house when they would otherwise be working in a PG&E building. PG&E declined that proposal, and we do not think it is likely to be agreed to at this point.
- Office sharing and hotel space. Initially, we thought we might need to focus on the real estate savings to encourage PG&E to adopt more remote working. We thought we would have to establish provisions to maximize office space through desk sharing or commit to strict schedules for when employees would and would not be in the office. We now see that we don’t need to negotiate in these areas. This is not to say that every employee who works remotely will have a dedicated cubicle (that is unlikely), but we are not working on detailed provisions about what office space will look like for remote workers.
Reminder: Working From Home is Still Work.
Here are some key points to keep in mind regarding remote working. These apply currently during the pandemic and will continue to apply when remote working is optional and defined by the new agreement we are bargaining.
- Privacy. When working at home, your privacy rights are the same as when working in the office, but remember that there is not a high expectation of privacy when working in the office. The primary protection is that the California Wiretap Act means that you cannot be audio recorded without your permission.
- Computer monitoring. When you are using the company’s equipment, you can be monitored, and we recommend that you act at all times as if you are being monitored. Even if the company is not using a webcam to look at your face, they can still use keystroke logging and website tracking tools. Never do anything on the company computer or phone that you would not want them to know.
- Working hours. Remote work does not mean that you can flex your hours. Employees still need to be working during all work hours – especially hourly employees. And you cannot work overtime without your supervisor’s permission. Don’t get creative with your work schedule; you should treat remote work like working at the office.
- If you object to having company equipment in your home, you can choose to work at the office.