DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY PUGET SOUND NAVAL SHIPYARD AND INTERMEDIATE MAINTENANCE FACILITY BREMERTON, WASHINGTON and BREMERTON METAL TRADES COUNCIL, AFL-CIO LOCAL 12, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL ENGINEERS, AFL-CIO LOCAL 6, PLANNERS AND ESTIMATORS, PROGRESSMEN AND SCHEDULERS ASSOCIATION LOCAL 282, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS, DISTRICT 160, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL


In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY
PUGET SOUND NAVAL SHIPYARD AND
  INTERMEDIATE MAINTENANCE FACILITY
BREMERTON, WASHINGTON


and

BREMERTON METAL TRADES COUNCIL, AFL-CIO

LOCAL 12, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF
  PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL ENGINEERS,
  AFL-CIO

LOCAL 6, PLANNERS AND ESTIMATORS,
  PROGRESSMEN AND SCHEDULERS ASSOCIATION

LOCAL 282, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF
  MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS,
  DISTRICT 160, AFL-CIO

Case Nos. 05 FSIP 39
05 FSIP 40
05 FSIP 41
05 FSIP 42

 DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of the Navy, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Shipyard or PSNS) and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (IMF), Bremerton, Washington (Employer), filed requests 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 Bremerton Metal Trades Council (BMTC), AFL-CIO; Local 12, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), AFL-CIO; Local 6, Planners and Estimators, Progressmen and Schedulers Association (PEPSA); and Local 282, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), District 160, AFL-CIO (Unions).

    After investigation of the requests for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, which concerns multi-union bargaining over a mileage reimbursement policy affecting employees who use their privately-owned vehicles (POV) for local work-related travel, should be resolved through an informal conference by telephone with Panel Member Grace Flores-Hughes. The parties also were advised that if no settlement was reached, Member Flores-Hughes would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, which could include the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, Member Flores-Hughes convened a teleconference with the parties on April 12, 2005. During the conference call, however, the parties were unable to resolve their dispute. Thereafter, the parties submitted to the Panel their final offers and summary statements of position. Member Flores-Hughes has reported to the Panel, and it now has considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Shipyard, located in Bremerton, Washington, repairs ships for the Pacific Fleet. In October 2003, it merged with the IMF, located at the Bangor Submarine Base, approximately 18 miles away; the Shipyard and IMF are in Kitsap County, Washington. The merger created a unified maintenance organization where both depot-level and intermediate-level repairs and refurbishing are performed. Four labor organizations, representing a combined total of approximately 7,700 employees, are involved in this dispute. BMTC consists of 12 trade unions that collectively represent approximately 5,000 bargaining-unit employees; its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is in effect until June 14, 2006. Local 12, IFPTE represents approximately 1,800 employees; the parties are currently renegotiating their CBA. Local 6, PEPSA, represents a bargaining unit consisting of approximately 150 employees; a recently renegotiated CBA currently is before the Department of Defense for agency head review. Local 282, IAMAW represents approximately 800 primarily non-professional employees; its CBA was to have expired in March 2004 but has been extended.

    One of the merger's objectives was to help consolidate facilities, resources and processes to reduce overall costs to the Navy. In this connection, an integration team was formed to examine Shipyard and IMF policies to determine inconsistencies. Mileage reimbursement was one of the issues that needed to be addressed because the Shipyard and IMF had different policies as to when employees should be reimbursed for mileage expenses incurred for local business-related travel using their POVs. Shipyard employees, for example, were authorized mileage reimbursement for travel to IMF where work sometimes was performed. Whereas, prior to the merger, there was relatively little need for Shipyard employees to work at IMF, this is expected to change given staffing reductions and a $20 million decline on funding. The dispute arose when the Employer proposed to eliminate mileage reimbursement for travel to work sites within Kitsap County.1/  The existing travel policy that allows employees to be reimbursed for work-related travel outside Kitsap County, using their POVs for transportation, would remain in effect.

ISSUE

    The parties essentially disagree over when employees who use their POVs to travel to job sites within Kitsap County should be reimbursed for mileage expenses.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Unions' Position

The Unions propose the following wording:

When management assigns an employee to an alternate work site, the employee shall be reimbursed mileage and/or any actual reimbursable expenses for parking or local public transportation, until a permanent change of station becomes effective.

The Unions contend that their proposal would retain the current practice of reimbursing employees for mileage expenses incurred when they use their POVs to travel from home to an alternate work site that is farther than their commute from home to their regular work site. This is only fair because the Employer does not make Government vehicles available for local business-related travel. In addition, the change the Employer proposes could have a significant financial impact on employees, particularly in light of ever-increasing gasoline prices and the fact that they are likely to experience more travel to the IMF site because there have been personnel cutbacks at IMF and a backlog of work is developing. The Employer also is in a better position to absorb mileage expenses than employees, most of who are not highly graded. Finally, both the law (5 U.S.C. § 5704) and the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR, Volume 2, Part H, C2400, Paragraph D) "clearly establish that the reimbursement for travel expenses is an entitlement," and the Employer's attempt to define Kitsap County as the employees' permanent duty station is inconsistent with Appendix A of the JTR.

2. The Employer's Position

The Employer proposes that the following provision be adopted:

The established work site for PSNS and IMF employees at either Bremerton or the Bangor site is Kitsap County. Mileage reimbursement will not be authorized for travel to and from home to work sites within Kitsap County. Employees who are assigned to another work site after the start of their shift shall be reimbursed for mileage between the two sites only.

According to the Employer, upon consolidation of the Shipyard and IMF, "the two work sites effectively became one duty station making Kitsap County the permanent duty station." The designation of Kitsap County as employees' permanent duty station is consistent with the definitions found in Appendix A of the JTR. In addition, the JTR state that an Agency may authorize/approve reimbursement for transportation expenses incurred by employees conducting official business in the local area of their permanent duty station "but is not compelled to do so." Since the Shipyard and IMF sites are only 18 miles apart and within the normal commuting area "no reimbursement would be authorized for travel to and from home to work sites within Kitsap County." Its position is supported by Comptroller General decisions stating that there is no authority for reimbursement of travel expenses between an employee's residence and permanent duty station.

    Under the current policy, mileage reimbursement for local travel cost the Employer more than $200,000 in FY 2004, excluding the additional administrative costs of processing the necessary personnel actions to change duty stations for those assignments. Given that $20 million was cut from the Employer's budget in FY 2005, and the personnel cutbacks and emerging backlog at IMF, the number of Shipyard employees that will be required to work at IMF is likely to continue to increase. The merger also converted the Shipyard to a new funding system where mileage costs for work between the sites can no longer be charged to customers but must be absorbed in limited overhead budgets. The Employer's provision should be adopted, therefore, because it would significantly reduce operating costs. A transportation incentive program providing numerous readily available vanpools, carpools "and worker-driver buses" mitigates the adverse impact on employees. In addition, the Employer would provide 30-days' advance notice of the change, and reimburse employees for mileage and/or parking, if authorized, when they are assigned to either of the two worksites after the start of their shift.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments provided by the parties in support of their positions, we shall order the adoption of a modified version of the Employer's proposal to resolve the dispute. In our view, under the circumstances presented in this case, it is not unreasonable for employees to bear the cost of travel from their residences to work-related assignments. Given the 18-mile distance between the Shipyard and IMF, the maximum number of miles per day added to an employee's commute would be 36. In some instances, depending on where the employee resides, commuting distances might actually be reduced. The Employer also would continue to bear the cost of travel in situations where an employee arrives at a worksite and, subsequently, is assigned to another site that day. Under the Unions' proposal, contrary to the current practice, it appears that the Employer would be required to pay all of the mileage and/or other expenses associated with employees' local travel from their residences to an alternate duty site, and not just for the mileage that exceeds their usual commute. This would allow employees to avoid any costs for reporting to work at sites that are outside their normal duty stations, and is unacceptable because it could dissuade the Employer from assigning employees to an alternate work site.

    While concluding that the Employer has made a stronger case than the Unions regarding the merits of the issue, we are nevertheless persuaded that the Employer's proposal should be modified. It appears from the parties' supporting statements that the primary focus of their dispute concerns whether the Employer's proposed policy is consistent with the JTR. In this regard, the Employer apparently believes that the JTR grant it the unilateral right to establish Kitsap County as the permanent duty station for bargaining-unit employees; the Union essentially contends that doing so would be inconsistent with the JTR.2/  Imposing this portion of the Employer's proposal would involve the Panel in a matter that is more appropriate for resolution in the grievance/arbitration forum. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of wording that acknowledges the reasonableness of the Employer's position in terms of the commuting distances involved without presupposing that its interpretation of the JTR is correct. Our modification also preserves the Unions' right to challenge the Employer's designation of Kitsap County as employees' permanent duty station in an appropriate forum.