State employees get reprieve from Nebraska Gov. Pillen’s return-to-office order

State government workers are getting a reprieve from Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen’s order to end remote work and return to their offices after a state agency temporarily blocked the order.

State workers had been set to return to the office on Tuesday after Pillen unilaterally issued the order in November. But on Friday, the Nebraska Industrial Relations Committee — which serves as an arbitrator that resolves public sector wage and working condition disputes — granted a temporary halt on the order, finding that remote work is currently the status quo for public employees and that any change from the status quo must be resolved through bargaining.

In his order, Pillen noted that state employees were only working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic to lessen the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

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“Nebraskans are back to work, and they expect that our agencies are fully staffed and open for business Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.,” Pillen said in a statement when he issued the order. “As public servants, we have a duty to meet that expectation, and deliver maximum value to the taxpayers.”

But the state employees union, the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, pushed back on the order, filing a complaint with the Industrial Relations Committee. The governor’s order, it said, would worsen staffing shortages and limit state agencies’ ability to retain and attract high-quality public servants.

The union conducted a survey of its members following Pillen’s order, in which of the 1,700 who responded, more than 1,000 said they were actively looking or considering looking for new jobs in response to the order.

“It is clear from the data that a critical mass of state employees may leave state employment if we are unable to bargain mutually beneficial terms and conditions of employment regarding remote work,” Justin Hubly, executive director of the employees union, said in a letter to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which argued in favor or the governor’s order. “This will hurt us all, especially the most vulnerable Nebraskans who rely on critical state services.”

Pillen’s office did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday seeking comment.

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