DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY OFFICE OF CHIEF COUNSEL PLANTATION, FLORIDA and CHAPTER 93, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
OFFICE OF CHIEF COUNSEL
PLANTATION, FLORIDA

 

               and

CHAPTER 93, NATIONAL TREASURY
  EMPLOYEES UNION 

      Case No. 04 FSIP 62

 DECISION AND ORDER

    Chapter 93, National Treasury Employees Union (Union or NTEU) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Treasury, Office of Chief Counsel, Plantation, Florida (Employer or OCC).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, which initially concerned the location and configuration of workstations for two paralegals at the Plantation office,[1]/ the Panel determined that the issues should be resolved through single written submissions from the parties.  After considering the entire record, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the matter, which could include the issuance of a Decision and Order.  The parties also were informed that, in resolving the disputed issues, the Panel would select between the parties’ final offers, to the extent they otherwise appear to be legal.  Written statements were submitted by the parties consistent with the Panel’s determination, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

  BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to serve America’s taxpayers fairly and with integrity by providing correct and impartial interpretation of the internal revenue laws and the highest quality legal advice and representation for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The Union represents a nationwide consolidated bargaining unit of approximately 1,600 professional and non-professional employees, about 15 of whom are located at the Employer’s office in Plantation, Florida, working in positions such as revenue agent, revenue officer, criminal examiner, paralegal, and secretary, at grades GS-3 through –13.  On June 30, 2004, the Panel issued a Decision and Order resolving the last four items for the parties’ first nationwide term agreement.[2]/

 ISSUES

    The parties essentially disagree over the dimensions of the paralegals’ workstations.[3]/

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1.  The Union’s Position

      The Union proposes the following wording:

The Employer shall reconfigure the Plantation, Florida Chief Counsel Office space to provide for two individual cubicles of 120 square feet.  They shall be adjoining and situated where the current Visitor [Cubicles] are located and extend from the corridor opposite the Library to approximately eleven (11) feet into the current Active/Inactive File Room.  The Cubicles shall have partition doors and partition walls of seven (7) feet in height, the same as the current Team Leader cubicles.  In creating these cubicles, however, the floor-to-ceiling wall extending along the back of the two Visitor cubicles, which separates them from the current Grand Jury File room and the current File, shall not be moved.  Rather, only the floor-to-ceiling wall extending along the side of Visitor Cubicle 2 shall be moved eleven (11) feet into the current File room space.  The current floor-to-ceiling wall separating the back of the Visitor cubicle will be extended to meet the newly moved side wall. 

Its proposal should be adopted because of “the demonstrated need of paralegal employees for increased work space over what they now occupy and noise reduction,” and “the comparable workstations of paralegals” in other OCC offices.  Although their current workspace affords them the quiet and privacy needed for daily work, 64 square foot cubicles “are wholly inadequate for the interviews and storage needs of the paralegals.”  In this regard, they are constantly getting up to retrieve files and reference materials from the file room and search for vacant rooms to conduct interviews.  The Union’s survey of working space for paralegals “throughout the Employer’s field offices” shows that private office space, sometimes involving vacant attorney offices, is the norm.  Moreover, such space is “significantly larger” than the cubicles allotted to the paralegals in the Plantation office.  In addition, the cost of the Union’s proposal “would be minimal,” and is justified given that it is a direct result of the Employer’s refusal to engage in the preconstruction collective bargaining required under the Statute.  Finally, the space that would be taken from the adjoining File Room is currently used to store excess furniture and equipment, and “numerous boxes of files” which should already have been sent to the Federal Records Center, so the Employer’s filing needs would not be adversely affected.

2.  The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes to increase the size of the cubicles currently occupied by the paralegals “from 8’ x 8’ to 8’ x 9.5’ each.”  This “addresses the Union’s desire for additional space for the paralegals in a manner which is both fair and economical.”  Since its offer would create cubicles of 76 square feet, the paralegals would occupy workspace that is larger than the 64 square feet they are entitled to under the nationwide space standards adopted by the OCC in 1998.[4]/  A comparison of the estimated costs of the parties’ final offers also favors the adoption of the Employer’s position (i.e., $2,144 for the Employer versus at least $5,040 for the Union).  In addition, “to the extent a Panel ruling in the Union’s favor would be followed” in other OCC locations around the country, the cost to the Agency could be multiplied.  As to the Union’s contention that the paralegals have insufficient storage space in their current workstations, the Employer is “unaware of any evidence” that they “are more disadvantaged in this regard than attorneys or clerical employees in the Plantation office.”  While it is “axiomatic that most people – wherever they work – would enjoy more spacious and/or private offices,” common sense dictates that individual preferences must be limited by available space and funding. 

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that their impasse should be resolved on the basis of the Employer’s final offer.  It appears that the Union’s initial concerns about the paralegals’ exposure to adverse noise and temperature conditions were addressed during the bargaining process, so the most important issue in dispute is the size of their workstations.  In comparing the parties’ positions in this regard, we are persuaded that the Employer’s proposal, which would provide space in excess of what the paralegal position is entitled to under the OCC’s nationwide space standards, is reasonable under the circumstances presented.  There also is insufficient evidence in the record to support a conclusion that 120 square feet of space, with partition doors and walls the same as those of the current Team Leader cubicles, is comparable to what paralegals receive in the other field offices throughout the OCC.  Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s final offer.

 ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under the Panel’s regulations, 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6(a)(2), the Federal Service Impasses Panel under § 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following: