The IRS Labor Union’s Role in Office Attendance Shortfalls

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The IRS Labor Union's Role in Office Attendance Shortfalls

In a recent Senate testimony, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attributed the IRS’s failure to meet its expected 50% in-office work standard to the influence of its labor union. This revelation emerged during a pointed exchange with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) at an Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Sen. Collins highlighted the alarming issue of inadequate assistance from IRS employees, a concern reflected in the large volume of IRS casework her office handles on behalf of constituents. She underscored the significant discrepancy between the IRS’s attendance records and its stated goals, based on the latest data from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. According to these figures, IRS employees teleworked 22% of the time, worked in person 38% of the time, and engaged in hybrid work 40% of the time during the first quarter of the fiscal year. This falls short of the IRS’s requirement for employees to spend half of their workdays in the office, effective since May 5, 2024.

The core exchange that captured this issue was as follows:

Collins: “I’ve looked at the latest data from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Inspector General found that IRS employees telework 22% of the time, worked in person 38% of the time, and engaged in some sort of hybrid work 40% of the time on average during the first quarter of the fiscal year. So I’m trying to reconcile the data that’s reported by the Inspector General to the IRS’ goal of having its employees work half of their work days in the office. It seems to me that the Inspector General found that they are not working half of their work days in the office.”

Yellen: “You know, some of the employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements, they’re members of the union, and to enforce those rules requires an agreement with the union.”

Collins: “Let me suggest that I think those contracts need to be renegotiated with the taxpayers’ interests in mind.”

Yellen: “Agreed.”

This exchange highlights a crucial issue: the collective bargaining agreements that currently govern IRS employees’ work arrangements. These agreements, negotiated by the labor union, are a significant factor in the agency’s inability to enforce the in-office work requirement. While remote and hybrid work models have their advantages, the primary responsibility of the IRS is to serve taxpayers efficiently. The evident shortfall in meeting office attendance standards directly impacts the quality and timeliness of taxpayer services.

Renegotiating these contracts with a focus on taxpayer interests is not just a suggestion but a necessity. Taxpayers deserve a responsive and effective IRS, and this can only be achieved if employees are present and engaged in the office as required. The labor union must recognize that while protecting workers’ rights is important, so too is fulfilling the agency’s mandate to provide reliable and timely assistance to the public.

As Secretary Yellen agreed, there is a clear need for contract renegotiation. It’s time to prioritize the interests of the taxpayers who rely on the IRS’s services, ensuring that employees are present and available to meet their needs. The union’s role should be to facilitate, not hinder, this crucial objective.

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