NFFE Forest Service Council Negotiates Extension of Medical Clearances Through 2024


Internal NFFE News

May 2, 2024

In mid April, the National Federation of Federal Employees Forest Service Council (NFFE-FSC) received notification from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Washington Office of adjustments to the implementation of the new Arduous Medical Process (AMP). Due to concerns about the AMP’s impact on the dignity and privacy of employees, along with concerns regarding specific details and language of the proposed implementation guide, the NFFE-FSC invoked formal negotiations with USFS management last year. As a result of a recent settlement, management has agreed to extend the expiration date of current medical clearances through 2024.

Specifically, all arduous, moderate, and light duty employees who completed the medical clearance process and work capacity test in 2023, for either the Forest Service or DOI, and do not have a change in medical status, will have the expiration date of their medical clearance and associated waivers extended to December 31, 2024. Other arduous duty employees in Regions 6, 8, 9, and 10 may elect to go through the Arduous Medical Process at any time; however, it is not required in 2024.

Further, the Forest Service reaffirmed its commitment to working with NFFE to ensure that employees understand how to navigate the new AMP and Health Screening Questionnaire (HSQ) questions, including the option to discuss some of the questions with a medical provider to determine if certain aspects of their medical history warrant disclosure. In future years, the USFS also plans to bring in mobile clinics to perform exams and increase medical provider availability for walk-in medical exams.

For context, on February 26, 2024, the NFFE-FSC filed a national-level grievance with the Forest Service over management’s failure to bargain a revised HSQ. This failure constituted an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP), but the grievance process was chosen as a quicker route for seeking remedy.

Since the prior HSQ was part of the implementation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) negotiated by the Union for the recently initiated AMP for wildland firefighters, the changes to the HSQ impacted fire employees’ negotiated ability to obtain expeditious medical clearance for arduous duties.

As a result of the filing, USFS management quickly responded to the grievance, and over several weeks the parties worked collaboratively to make adjustments to the implementation of the AMP, which balanced risk management, operational readiness of wildland firefighters, employee physical and mental health, and employee access to medical providers and services in rural/geographically remote locations.

On April 15, 2024, John Crockett, USFS Deputy Chief, State, Private and Tribal Forestry, submitted a letter to all USFS employees outlining implementation changes to the AMP and HSQ process that will improve the operational readiness of USFS fire employees. Much of the final paragraph of Deputy Chief Crockett’s letter speaks to the lessons learned:

“We take our commitment to learning seriously and will do so as we stand up this update to the Medical Qualification Program… As we move forward, we will continue to assess our current systems and processes, listen to our employees and our NFFE partners, and evaluate next steps to implement the new requirements.”

“We appreciate Management’s renewed commitment to collaborative engagement, problem solving, continual reassessment, and ensuring our valued employees function within the best Medical Qualification Program (MQP) that the Agency can muster,” said a NFFE-FSC AMP Negotiation Team Member.

“This is a perfect example of how workers can make an impact in their workplace through this union,” said NFFE National President Randy Erwin. “Collective action through NFFE membership is an incredibly powerful tool for Forest Service employees and federal workers across the country. When workers have issues with policies in their workplaces, management is required to negotiate with the union, and NFFE members understand how to use collective bargaining to their advantage. I look forward to the NFFE Forest Service Council’s continued work to ensure that the new AMP and HSQ are implemented in a manner that prioritizes employees’ wellbeing and their readiness to protect our communities from wildfires.”