DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION HEALTH REVENUE CENTER TOPEKA, KANSAS and LOCAL 906, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
HEALTH REVENUE CENTER
TOPEKA, KANSAS

 

and

LOCAL 906, AMERICAN FEDERATION
  OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 06 FSIP 33

DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Health Administration, Health Revenue Center, Topeka, Kansas (Employer) 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 906, American Federation of Government Employees (Union or AFGE).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, which concerns official time for the local Union president, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference by telephone with Panel Member Richard B. Ainsworth. The parties were informed that if no settlement was reached, Member Ainsworth would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would resolve the dispute by taking whatever action it deems appropriate, which could include the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, Member Ainsworth convened a teleconference with the parties on April 19, 2006. The parties, however, were unable to reach a voluntary resolution of their dispute. The Panel has now considered the entire record, including the parties’ final offers and post-conference statements of position.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates the Health Revenue Center, which consists of two call centers, the Health Eligibility Center, where employees respond to calls from veterans and their dependents concerning eligibility for veteran’s benefits, and the First Party Billing Center, which handles questions from veterans regarding invoices they have received from the VA. As of April 19, 2006, the Union represents 249 non-professional employees who are part of a nationwide consolidated bargaining-unit within the VA. About 90 percent of bargaining-unit employees hold the position of contact representative, at the GS-4 through -7 levels. The parties’ master collective-bargaining agreement (MCBA), implemented in 1997, remains in effect. The parties do not have a local supplemental agreement. Rather, they have nearly 20 Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) that govern conditions of employment.

    Prior to April 1, 2005, employees were represented by a different AFGE local which also represented a bargaining unit of professional employees at the Medical Center adjacent to the Health Revenue Center. One set of officers and stewards represented both bargaining units. As a result of an internal Union vote, Local 906 was established to represent only HRC employees. Thereafter, a slate of Local 906 Union officers was elected: a president, vice-president, and treasurer; and a chief steward and eight other stewards were appointed. The decision to form a separate local led the Employer to initiate negotiations over the amount of official time to be allocated for the new Union officers and stewards.1/ With the exception of official time for the local President, the parties have resolved official time allotments for all the other elected officers as well as the appointed stewards. In this regard, the parties agreed that these representatives would receive "reasonable amounts of official time" to perform Union representational functions.

ISSUE

    The sole issue in dispute is the amount of official time to be allocated for the local Union president to perform representational duties.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes to maintain the status quo, that is, the local Union president would continue to receive the 40-percent official time each week specified in Article 45 of the MCBA, with official time scheduled for 16 hours per week. An increase in the amount of official time for the local Union president is not justified because the size of the bargaining unit remains relatively small, notwithstanding the increase from 120 employees in March 2005, to 249 employees as of April 2006. Moreover, the amount of Union representational activity within the bargaining unit does not justify an increase in official time. The Union represents a bargaining unit consisting primarily of employees who have the same job title; as such, the Union is not confronted with a broad range of issues or diverse working conditions that otherwise may require Union representatives to utilize large amounts of official time. Furthermore, an increase in the amount of official time for the Union president is not warranted because statistics show that since August 2005 the president has not even used the 40 percent currently allotted under the MCBA. Finally, an increase in the Union president’s official time also is unnecessary because the parties already have agreed that: (1) all other Union representatives are to be afforded a reasonable amount of official time to perform representational activities; and (2) if the 40 percent is insufficient for the Union president, he may request additional time "in limited situations."

2. The Union’s Position

    Essentially, the Union proposes that the local Union president should be authorized 50-percent official time (20 hours each week or 4 hours a day) to perform representational duties.2/ A small increase in his official time allotment is warranted because the size of