State Treasurer Tobias Read Wants Distant Employees to Come to Salem — and Bear Their Own Travel Costs

The state’s new policy for employees electing to work remotely on a permanent basis is causing conflict at the Oregon State Treasury.

Specifically, union-represented employees at the agency are balking at State Treasurer Tobias Read’s request that they come to the office once a quarter — and pay their own travel expenses.

The friction is the latest fallout from a state policy that allows Oregon employees to relocate to another state, with taxpayers footing the bill for their airline commutes back to Salem.

WHAT DOES READ WANT?

Documents WW obtained under a public records request show Read told his 184 staff members that he wanted all employees to work at the agency’s offices at least one day per quarter.

The treasury acts as the state’s banker, borrowing money to fund certain expenditures and investing more than $ 130 billion of pension and public funds.

Read’s desire to see employees in Salem more often has caused a conflict with Service Employees International Union 503 Local 170, which represents 105 treasury employees.

SEIU says Read’s management team told the union at a July 20 meeting that employees who’d permanently relocated outside Oregon would be reclassified as “hybrid,” meaning they would sometimes need to come to the office.

As WW previously reported, the state of Oregon implemented new policies for teleworking in December 2021. The new policy defines “remote” as work that can be accomplished “from an alternative workplace 100% of the time.” About 500 state employees have chosen that option. Hybrid work requires workers to come to the office periodically.

WHY IS YOU UNHAPPY?

The union ascribed a motive to that reclassification: “to deny reimbursement for travel costs associated with their arbitrary, across-the-board requirement of one day per quarter in-office.”

On Aug. 18, one of those SEIU-represented treasury employees, an analyst with a salary of $ 115, 516, filed a grievance over Read’s position. (The union also filed a second grievance more generally on behalf of an unspecified number of affected employees.)

The treasury analyst, whose name the agency has withheld pending resolution, “lives in Texas, so the impact of this decision on him would constitute thousands of dollars per year in airfare and hotels, not to mention the time burden and COVID risk of so much air travel, ”the grievance says.

The new state policy says remote employees “must be reimbursed” for travel back to Oregon, but hybrid employees pay their own costs.

SEIU argues there is no objective need for the employee to fly in from Texas.

“The one-day-per-quarter requirement is not connected to any specific date, event, or other person’s in-office schedule,” the union grievance says. “What the Treasurer wants does not constitute a business reason and is by definition arbitrary.”

WHAT COULD HAPPEN?

The state policy says the designation of employees as remote “may be discontinued by either party at any time.” That would seem to give Read the upper hand, but SEIU says it violates a collective bargaining agreement ..

The union says Read’s demand could have consequences: “Ultimately, forcing [the employee in Texas] to personally bear these wholly unnecessary costs and risks would likely make long-term continuation of his employment at Treasury untenable. ” In other words, he’d probably quit.

WHAT DOES READ SAY?

Deputy treasurer Michael Kaplan, Read’s point person on labor issues, says the agency has learned a lot about flexible working conditions from the pandemic and will continue to allow flexibility, but the department wants to be judicious.

“Subsidizing the choice of where someone chooses to live is not likely something Oregon taxpayers, our pension beneficiaries, or the Legislature would accept as a cost of doing our business,” Kaplan tells WW.

WHAT DO LAWMAKERS THINK?

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) has said the state should not be paying out-of-state employees’ travel costs. He thinks Read, a Democrat, is on the right track.

“Both public- and private-sector workers knew the pandemic would eventually subside and some workers would need to return to their offices,” Knopp says. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be saddled with thousands of dollars in additional costs for public employees who moved to another state under temporary remote work agreements.”

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) “shares concerns about some of the potential impacts of new out-of-state work policies,” says Stephen Watson, spokesman for the Democratic caucus. “Senate Democrats will take a closer look at this issue heading towards our next legislative session.”

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