DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HEALTH ELIGIBILITY CENTER ATLANTA, GEORGIA and LOCAL 518, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
Case No. 06 FSIP 10
DECISION AND ORDER
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Health Eligibility Center, Atlanta, Georgia (Employer or HEC) 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 Local 518, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union).
Following an investigation of the request for assistance, arising from post-implementation bargaining over the Employer's decision to purchase and install cubicles with glass panels for legal administrative specialists during a relocation of its operations to a new building in May 2004,1/ the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference with Panel Member Grace Flores-Hughes. The parties were informed that, if a complete settlement were not reached during the informal conference, Member Flores-Hughes 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 Decision and Order.
In accordance with the Panel's procedural determination, Member Flores-Hughes met with representatives of the parties at the Employer's facility in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 18, 2006. With her assistance, the parties attempted to resolve the dispute voluntarily but their efforts failed. Member Flores-Hughes has reported to the Panel, and the Panel has considered the entire record in rendering its decision.
The Employer's mission is to determine the eligibility of veterans for health care benefits and administer the DVA's National Health Care Enrollment Program. In addition to legal administrative specialists (GS-9), the approximately 95 bargaining-unit employees represented by the Union also occupy such positions as clerk, secretary, and information technology specialist, GS-5 through -12. The primary function of the legal administrative specialists is to evaluate veterans' eligibility for health care benefits by accessing the databases of other Government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. The parties' master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) was to have expired in 2000, but its terms continue in effect until a successor is implemented.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties disagree over whether the existing clear glass panels on the sides of the cubicles on the 2nd and 4th floors should be replaced by "spraylight" (i.e., frosted) glass panels.2/
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Employer's Position
The Employer proposes that the status quo be maintained, i.e., the cubicles should "remain 'as is' with the existing glass panels." The glass panels were installed to maximize the flow of natural light and to assist supervisors in observing employees while in the cubicles, and they continue to meet "the Agency mission and employee needs." The estimated $21,000 cost of adopting the Union's proposal, on the other hand, is prohibitive. In this regard, there is "not a budget line item for replacing the cubicle glass," so the money would have to come from the existing operating budget.
2. The Union's Position
The Union essentially proposes that the existing glass panels on the sides of the cubicles on the 2nd and 4th floors be replaced with "spraylight glass" panels, at the latest by September 30, 2006. Its chief concerns regarding the existing panels include the adverse impact they have had on the privacy of employees and the security of Federal tax information. They also have increased noise and sun glare levels, and reduced the amount of employees' usable storage space and tackable workspace for placing working materials. The adoption of its proposal would "address some of these concerns, while still addressing management's concern of lighting and visibility."
Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented on this issue, we shall order the adoption of the Union's proposal to resolve the parties' impasse. In our view, on balance, the measure of privacy that will be afforded to employees by replacing the existing side glass panels with frosted glass outweighs the cost of the proposal. This outcome is also consistent with what the Employer indicated it was willing to do in the presence of the Panel's representative during the informal conference, where a sample frosted glass panel was presented, before belatedly raising budgetary concerns.3/
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 5 C.F.R. § 2471.11(a) of its regulations, hereby orders the following:
The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal.
By direction of the Panel.
H. Joseph Schimansky
February 15, 2006
Post-implementation bargaining with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) occurred in accordance with an unfair labor practice (ULP) settlement agreement after the Atlanta Regional Director of the Federal Labor Relations Authority’s (FLRA) Office of General Counsel issued a complaint on May 19, 2004, against the Employer for refusing to participate in negotiations involving the FMCS regarding the installation of glass panels in the cubicles on the 2nd floor of the building. In August 2005, while negotiations under the ULP settlement agreement were still ongoing, the Employer purchased additional cubicles with glass panels when it expanded its operations to the 4th floor of the building. This resulted in the filing of another ULP charge by the Union in September 2005 that is currently pending before the FLRA. Its latest ULP charge notwithstanding, the Union agreed with the Employer that the installation of the cubicles on both floors should be presented to the Panel together for resolution. The total number of cubicles with glass panels purchased and installed by the Employer at issue before the Panel is 141.
Each cubicle has four glass panels, two smaller ones on either side of the entrance to the cubicle, and two larger ones, approximately 2’ by 16”, at the top of the side panels of each cubicle.
In this regard, parties are advised that they should not make offers in the course of settlement efforts during meetings under the Panel's auspices unless they are prepared to have such offers imposed.