New Hiring Policy Threatens Seasonal Employees at National Parks

Guideline change has resulted in some part-time workers losing ‘rehire status’

By Justin Franz

Tracey Wiese and Bruce Carter have been with the National Park Service for more than 30 years, including 10 years as seasonal law enforcement rangers in the remote Belly River region in Glacier National Park’s northeast corner.

Earlier this year, the husband-and-wife team from Washington were preparing for another summer in Glacier when they were told they did not have jobs this year because of a change in how the Park Service hires seasonal workers. The change threatens to leave some seasonal employees without jobs, including some at Glacier, and means the loss of institutional knowledge in some parks.

For years, seasonal employees that received positive reviews from their supervisors were given rehire status, which meant they did not have to reapply for their seasonal job. If the seasonal employee did not want to come back, the job would be posted online for any qualified candidate to apply. But following an audit by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the National Park Service “made required changes to ensure constancy and correct use of the non-competitive rehire authority for seasonal employees,” said National Park Service Chief Spokesperson Jeremy K. Barnum.

Now, if any employee worked more than 1,039 hours in a calendar year, they would not be qualified for automatic rehire status. The new interpretation was also applied retroactively – meaning employees who had exceeded that limit in previous years were also impacted. Officials with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies, said the new interpretation is problematic because some seasonal employees exceed the 1,039-hour limit while working during the summer and winter seasons.

What’s worse, union officials said, is that the impacted seasonal employees were not told of the change until after their old jobs had been posted online.

“These seasonal employees had been rehired year after year, many for decades, without having to formally apply and compete for positions,” wrote NTEU President Tony Reardon. “Although they could have, in theory, done so this year, they were not notified of this new ‘policy’ until after vacancy announcements had closed.”

Reardon also noted that the new rule is being interpreted differently from region to region and park to park. The union officials have asked for help from law makers to pressure the Park Service to create a “clear and consistent path for these employees to keep working.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon urging them to help the impacted employees.

Spokesperson Barnum told the Beacon that the Park Service is continuing to comply with the new interpretation while simultaneously helping seasonal employees.

“We will continue to develop regular communications to ensure that affected seasonal employees and hiring officials have clear and consistent information to support their careers and workforce planning,” he said.

It is unclear how many seasonal employees in Glacier Park have been impacted by the announcement, although Tester’s letter suggested it could be more than a dozen. Some of the seasonal employees who were told earlier this year that they had lost their jobs have been able to get new jobs.

Luckily for Wiese and Carter, no qualified candidates were found to work the remote Belly River area this summer and so they will be heading to Glacier this month, a few weeks later than normal due to paperwork delays.

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