DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS WASHINGTON, D.C. and COUNCIL OF VETERANS ADMINISTRATION LOCALS, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES, FEDERAL DISTRICT 1, IAMAW, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL


In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
WASHINGTON, D.C.

and

COUNCIL OF VETERANS ADMINISTRATION
  LOCALS, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
  FEDERAL EMPLOYEES, FEDERAL
  DISTRICT 1, IAMAW, AFL-CIO

  

 

 


Case No. 05 FSIP 86

DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Washington, D.C. (Employer) and the Council of Veterans Administration Locals, National Federation of Federal Employees, Federal District 1, IAMAW, AFL-CIO (Union), filed a joint 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.

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse concerning sections of three articles for the parties= successor collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) should be resolved through an informal conference with Panel Member Andrea Fischer Newman. The parties were informed that, if a complete settlement were not reached during the informal conference, Member Newman would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute. The notification would include, among other things, the final offers of the parties and her recommendations to the Panel for resolving the issues. The parties also were informed that, after considering the entire record, the Panel would resolve the dispute by taking whatever action it deemed appropriate, which could include the issuance of a binding decision.

    In accordance with the Panel's procedural determination, Member Newman met with representatives of the parties at the Panel's offices in Washington, D.C., on August 31, 2005. A voluntary settlement was reached on one of three issues, official time, but the parties were unable to agree to the issues involving the two other articles. Member Newman has reported to the Panel regarding the issues, and it has now considered the entire record, including the parties= post-conference written submissions.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer provides health care to veterans, orphans, and widows; disability benefits; and loans for housing, business, and educational purposes. The Union represents a nationwide, consolidated bargaining unit of 4,715 professional employees, who work as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, technicians, therapists, social workers, physician assistants, optometrists, dentists, and counselors. They are located at 18 VA medical centers, and in some stand-alone clinics and regional offices. All but the doctors and nurses are hybrid employees that are under both Title 5 and 38; their grades range from GS-7 through -14. The Title 38 employees are in special pay categories. The parties are covered by a master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) that was negotiated in 1997 and expired on May 9, 2005; they will continue to abide by its terms until a successor CBA is implemented.1/

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over: (1) the extent, if any, to which the Employer should pay Union representatives' travel and per diem expenses when the Union appoints a representative from outside the local area to assist in local negotiations (Article 8, Negotiations); and (2) whether to require the Employer to provide doctors with "functional statements" instead of "privileging documents" (Article 19, Functional Statements).

1. Payment of Travel and Per Diem Expenses for Non-Local Negotiators

    a. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that "the Union [] be provided official time, per diem and travel for Union negotiators up to the number of representatives Management designates for the bargaining, but not less than two." This is the same wording that is in the 1997 MCBA. In 8 years, the Union has only requested that the Employer pay the Union's travel and per diem expenses three times. When the Employer denied the first request, the matter had to be taken to arbitration to obtain the Employer's compliance with the contract. On January 22, 2000, the Arbitrator issued an award examining the quoted wording. He concluded:

[T]he establishment of travel and per diem allowances in a separate subparagraph C within Section 2 [] reflects that the parties reasonably could expect the inclusion of non-local participants as union negotiators in local negotiations.

In the other two instances, the Employer again denied the Union's requests for payment of its travel and per diem expenses. Such financial support is necessary when a NFFE local needs the assistance of an experienced representative not within the local bargaining unit to adequately negotiate changes in working conditions. On its side, the Employer "has failed to demonstrate or provide any evidence of abuse regarding this issue by the Union."

b. The Employer's Position

The Employer is proposing the following:

The NFFE NVAC President may request from the local facility Director funding of travel and per diem for 1 NFFE official to assist in local negotiations. Requests will be approved when: 1. Management determines that such travel is in the primary interest of the Government in a given case; 2. Alternative technology resources have been exhausted; and 3. Funds are available. Management will give good faith consideration to the merits of each request.

In most cases, negotiators should be from the local area because they are "most familiar with the issues and are directly impacted by the outcome." In the appropriate circumstances, however, "it may be mutually advantageous to bring one NFFE official from another facility to help the local NFFE negotiate." To ensure that such situations are given fair consideration, management should apply "reasonable standards" to evaluate such requests. Furthermore, since the Federal Travel Regulations require that the payment of travel and per diem expenses must be "in the primary interest of the government," this standard should be on the list of things considered. If the request were denied, the Union would still be free to bring "any representative it wishes at its own expense." As to the past history on this issue, in one case the Union requested funds for an outside representative's travel and per diem even though the local president was an experienced negotiator.

CONCLUSION

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented on this issue, we are persuaded that the Employer's proposal provides the better basis for resolving the dispute. In our view, it provides reasonable criteria for deciding whether, in individual cases, the Employer should pay the travel and per diem expenses for a non-local representative to assist in bargaining. In addition, the wording in the 1997 MCBA the Union proposes to retain has proved to be problematic. While the number of instances the Union has requested such payment does not appear to be excessive, there is no gua