NASCOE Statement on Safety Protocols Implemented by USDA

As most of you are aware, the requirements for attesting to the Federal Employees vaccination status was released this week.  We all knew this determination would be coming at some point soon.  In a prior bulletin, NASCOE committed that it would work to stay abreast of the situation, research the legal side of the issue, and communicate member concerns to management.

The decision to require working conditions be dependent on vaccine status was made at the highest level of the federal government and it affects over 2 million employees.  Notably, no unions or any movement in Congress has provided any avenue to overturn what the President has decided.

NASCOE is an employee association, not a union, representing approximately 7000 county office employees and as such, NASCOE has the ability to bargain and share concerns with FSA.  NASCOE also employs an attorney and a political consultant for the benefit of members.  Recently, NASCOE has used these resources, to address membership concerns about vaccines and testing:

  • NASCOE has collected concerns and questions from members related to COVID-19 protocols being implemented.  
  • NASCOE has delivered membership concerns to FSA management on a daily basis.
  • NASCOE has discussed and reviewed individual member suggestions with management. 
  • NASCOE has consulted the NASCOE attorney on the topics of mask mandates, vaccines in the workplace and testing.  NASCOE cross references with our attorney what we learn from USDA, CDC, EEOC, DOJ and the news media for accuracy.  The attorney is asked to look for areas where legal authorities are abused by the agency.  
  • NASCOE has collaborated with our full time NASCOE political consultant about legislative opportunities that may exist which involve mask mandates, vaccines, and workplace testing.  Currently, our consultant sees no readily available solution from Congress on the topic at hand. 
  • NASCOE has conveyed to management the concern regarding the potential loss of employees due to COVID-19 protocols.  The concern is great enough that NASCOE has asked management if a plan for re-hiring is in place to address continuity issues due to expedited departures.

The bottom line is that the government, like private sector employers, is able to implement safety measures they deem appropriate.  While there are a lot of opinions on what our employer should be doing, the guidance we have received is that our employer has the legal authority to implement these measures and that there are no civil rights violations in the workplace related to COVID-19 safety measures.  It should be noted that local businesses such as hospitals and restaurants and even large companies, such as Fox News and Walmart, are also requiring employees to disclose vaccination status. 

NASCOE understands that membership from all over the nation have different views and there is not a consensus on this issue.  Some members are in favor of vaccines, some are not in favor of vaccines and some members have concerns about medical privacy.  None of these opinions are wrong, and as such, NASCOE has the responsibility to represent all membership and while NASCOE does not have the ability to change COVID-19 protocol, we can make sure that the voice of membership is heard.

We know the situation is very fluid and keeps changing.  Employees won’t be required to take a vaccine, but many questions remain about COVID-19 testing.  NASCOE intends to continue working with our attorney and political consultant to review additional COVID-19 policy as it is issued.  We will work with management at FSA to determine where FSA has discretion in rulemaking and continue to push for control at the local level as much as possible.  NASCOE will do its best to convey to FSA management that guidance needs to be consistent and clearly delivered so that employees can make the choices they feel are best. 

In closing, NASCOE is committed to continuing to voice concerns, frustrations, and suggestions to management.  As NASCOE has said from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCOE believes safety decisions are best handled at the local level where local conditions prevail.   

The continued support you show NASCOE through good times and bad times is remarkable.  We also value your continued feedback.  Please work with your NASCOE state affiliate to pass along your suggestions to NASCOE leadership.  We will continue to keep everyone abreast of information as it becomes available. 

For the entire NASCOE Executive Committee and Committee Chairpersons, I’m Brandon Wilson, NASCOE President.  Thank you and good night.

NASCOE News Flash – January 20, 2019

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

Fellow NASCOE Members,

NASCOE leadership believes it is possible that all County Office Employees may be called back as “excepted” employees.  Excepted employees would be required to perform limited duties if approved by OMB and to work without pay until shutdown ends. The negative employee impacts that are the most concerning to NASCOE are the potential loss of unemployment benefits and the loss of the ability to utilize outside employment to make ends meet.

NASCOE fully understands that the negative impacts of the current agricultural economy are compounded by the additional loss of FSA benefits.  While NASCOE is sympathetic to the burdens our farmers face, NASCOE cannot support sacrificing the financial security of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees by subjecting them to a callback without pay.

As fellow employees, we are dealing with the same financial stress and fully understand the situations that employees are facing.  NASCOE is in constant communication with Administration leadership in an effort to discuss ways to minimize the impact on FSA employees.

NASCOE is deeply concerned that the callback could force some employees to leave the agency and force others to make the decision to retire. These actions will have a negative long-term impact on FSA’s ability to provide quality service to our producers when they need us the most. Trained, experienced and committed employees who leave the agency will not be easily replaced.

NASCOE has been very disappointed in the lack of clear direction and instructions from the very beginning of this historic furlough.  NASCOE has diligently made an effort to keep members up to date. Keep in mind this is not official notification.  As details continue to emerge, NASCOE will be sharing information with our membership as quickly as possible.  Please continue to look for email correspondence and website updates with the latest news from NASCOE.

Thanksgiving Wishes from NASCOE President Dennis Ray

Happy Thanksgiving Rustic

As we head into the holiday season I would like to wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope that you enjoy some quality family time and make some lasting memories this holiday.  I hope that each of us can enjoy the holiday without the everyday stress of work and life making us lose sight of what we have to be thankful.  I am thankful for each of you and the difference you make in the lives of our producers, families and co-workers.  I am blessed to be part of such a great organization.

I know there are a lot of questions surrounding USDA reorganization and how that affects us moving forward.  The Secretary’s vision of providing the best customer service is something that I think we all can support.  We support that vision and believe that any reorganization should focus on FSA’s footprint and how that can be utilized to provide the best customer service.  The footprint of county offices is critical for servicing and delivering farm programs.

Recently, NASCOE Area executives have been encouraging members to submit negotiation items.  The negotiation process is one of the foundational principles of our organization.  It gives every member the opportunity to actively participate in the process by providing NASCOE with important program or procedure suggestions which they would like to see changed.  Members are encouraged to submit any items of concern using the online submission form on the NASCOE website.  These items are reviewed and vetted by the NASCOE negotiation team and then submitted to management for their consideration and response.  Any unresolved items will be negotiated face to face between NASCOE and management.

You should have also been seeing some reminders on Distinguished Service Awards and Scholarship deadlines.  The application is an online process and can be found on the NASCOE webpage under the Forms and Downloads tab.  NASCOE is full of deserving individuals who make significant contributions to NASCOE, Agriculture or their community.  If you have a deserving individual in mind, please take the few minutes needed to complete the nomination.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President