Lawyers at the D.C. Attorney General’s Office had a plan in place since 2005 that allowed attorneys to take one day off a week in exchange for working additional hours on other days. Mondays and Fridays were popular days off.
But D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles apparently is not a fan of the flexible work schedule and has effectively terminated the alternative work schedules program, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1403, the union that represents District lawyers.
Nickles, who told the union that the policy change is supposed to cut costs and to foster “regular and speedy access” to attorneys, did not return calls seeking comment to explain his decision to amend the program. Now, lawyers for the District can only take time off between Tuesdays and Thursdays, and no more than 20 percent of the workforce—about 1 in 5 lawyers—can be off at any one time.
The lawyers union’ president, Steven Anderson, fired off a letter to Nickles on Wednesday saying the union is looking at its options to challenge the order. Anderson says Nickles’ unilateral move violated the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city.
Management was not informed of attorney performance issues, Anderson said in the letter. “In fact, we understand that managers have mentioned to line attorneys that workforce morale and productivity have increased as a result of the existing policy,” Anderson wrote.
The new policy, Anderson said, “essentially converts a viable ongoing alternative work plan for the entire office into a minor perk for senior employees that may be doled out after several years for a six-month term.” Anderson estimates that about 75 percent of the 180 attorneys at the OAG participate in the program. He said the flexible work schedule policy has been a recruitment tool.
Councilmember Phil Mendelson, a Nickles critic, disputes how the change will save the city any money. He is demanding more information from Nickles.
“Regardless of how one works 40 hours—e.g., in four 10-hour days, by telecommuting, or by any other arrangement—the paycheck remains the same,” Mendelson, chair of the Committee on Public Policy & the Judiciary, said in a letter April 21 to Nickles.
Lawyers have built lives around the alternative work schedules, Mendelson said. “I am concerned that removing this program will negatively affect employees’ schedules, injure morale, and encourage some to move to the private sector.”
But the private sector, of course, isn’t faring all that well right now.