23:0422(62)CA - HHS, SSA and SSA Field Operations, New York Region and AFGE -- 1986 FLRAdec CA



[ v23 p422 ]
23:0422(62)CA
The decision of the Authority follows:


 23 FLRA No. 62
 
 DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 
 SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AND 
 SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION FIELD 
 OPERATIONS, NEW YORK REGION
 Respondent
 
 and
 
 AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT 
 EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
 Charging Party
 
                                            Case No. 2-CA-50221
 
                            DECISION AND ORDER
 
                         I.  Statement of the Case
 
    This unfair labor practice case is before the Authority on exceptions
 filed by the General Counsel to the attached Decision of the
 Administrative Law Judge.  The complaint alleged that the Respondent
 violated section 7116(a)(1) and (5) of the Federal Service
 Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) by refusing to bargain
 over ground rules for scheduled negotiations between the Respondent and
 the Charging Party (the Union) concerning the impact and implementation
 of the Respondent's decision to relocate its Babylon, Long Island Branch
 Office to Lindenhurst, Long Island.
 
                  II.  Background and Judge's Conclusion
 
    The basic facts are not in dispute, having been stipulated at the
 hearing.  By letter of February 8, 1985, the Union asked the Respondent
 if it planned to move its Babylon Branch Office.  The Respondent replied
 that it planned to move the Office as of March 1, 1985.  The Parties met
 shortly before the move and identified several areas of disagreement.
 The move took place as scheduled.  Shortly after the move, the Union
 requested to bargain over the impact and implementation of the move,
 submitted ground rules proposals, and proposed to meet on these
 proposals.  The Respondent replied that it was unwilling to meet on
 ground rules alone, since the parties' negotiated agreement required the
 submission of substantive proposals prior to bargaining on anything,
 including ground rules.  The Union then filed the charge that led to the
 complaint before the Judge in this case.
 
    The Judge found that the Respondent's refusal to bargain over the
 Union's ground rules proposals was not unlawful in the circumstances of
 this case.  The Judge observed that the Respondent gave proper notice of
 the move to the Union, met with the Union to discuss preliminarily what
 problems the move posed, and admitted its obligation to bargain over the
 impact and implementation of the move.  The Judge further found that the
 issue raised by the Respondent -- that is, whether substantive proposals
 must be submitted prior to bargaining -- is a long-standing, unresolved
 issue between the parties.  She then found that Article 4, Section 1 of
 the parties' agreement does not distinguish between ground rules and
 substantive proposals, but only provides that "proposals" shall be
 submitted within a reasonable time after notice of a proposed change is
 given, and prior to bargaining.  Acknowledging that ground rules are an
 integral part of the bargaining process, the Judge found that the
 Respondent's interpretation was arguably correct, and that the dispute
 therefore may be resolved through the grievance/arbitration machinery of
 the parties' contract but not through the unfair labor practice
 procedures of the Statute.  She therefore concluded that the
 Respondent's refusal to proceed to bargaining on ground rules until the
 Union had submitted substantive proposals was not a violation of the
 Statute, and recommended dismissal of the complaint.
 
                      III.  Positions of the Parties
 
    In its brief to the Judge, the Respondent argued that it was
 justified in refusing to bargain about ground rules alone because
 Atricle 4, Section 1 of the parties' agreement required the Union to
 submit substantive proposals before the Respondent was obligated to
 bargain concerning ground rules.
 
    In exceptions to the Judge's Decision, the General Counsel argues
 that ground rules are an integral part of the bargaining process, and
 that the Respondent was thus obligated to bargain about ground rules
 prior to the submission of proposals on substantive matters.  The
 General Counsel argues further that the Union did not waive its right to
 insist on such ground rules bargaining when it agreed to the terms of
 Article 4, Section 1 of the parties' collective bargaining agreement.
 
                               IV.  Analysis
 
    The Authority agrees with the Judge, who placed importance upon the
 fact that the meaning of Article 4, Section 1 of the parties' agreement
 has long been in dispute, and that the Respondent has consistently taken
 the position, since the inception of the parties' agreement, that the
 agreement obliges the Union to submit substantive proposals (as well as
 ground rules proposals, if any) prior to bargaining.  The Judge
 acknowledged that ground rules are an integral part of the collective
 bargaining process, about which management must bargain, citing
 Authority precedent.  She made a careful distinction in this case,
 however.  The Judge found that the Respondent did not refuse to bargain
 on ground rules, but only insisted, consistent with its view of the
 parties' collective bargaining agreement, that bargaining on ground
 rules be deferred until the Union also submitted its substantive
 proposals.  The General Counsel's argument concerning waiver is thus
 inapposite.  Consistent with the Judge, we find that the Respondent
 merely insisted that the Union comply with what the Respondent viewed as
 a negotiated condition precedent to beginning negotiations on ground
 rules, namely, the submission of substantive proposals concerning the
 impact and implementation of the change.
 
    We find, in essential agreement with the Judge, that this case
 involves differing and arguable interpretations of the parties'
 collective bargaining agreement.  The Respondent relied upon what it
 argued was a clear requirement of the parties' agreement that the
 Union's substantive proposals must be submitted before it was required
 to meet its obligation to bargain as to ground rules.  In such cases
 involving disputed interpretations of the parties' collective bargaining
 agreement, the aggrieved party's remedy lies within the grievance and
 arbitration procedures in the negotiated agreement rather than through
 unfair labor practice procedures.
 
                              V.  Conclusion
 
    Pursuant to section 2423.29 of the Authority's Rules and Regulations
 and section 7118 of the Statute, the Authority has reviewed the rulings
 of the Judge made at the hearing, finds that no prejudicial error was
 committed, and thus affirms those rulings.  The Authority has considered
 the Judge's Decision, the exceptions to that Decision, the positions of
 the parties, and the entire record, and adopts the Judge's findings,
 conclusions, and recommended Order dismissing the complaint.  We
 therefore conclude that the Respondent's refusal, based on its arguable
 interpretation of the parties' National Agreement, to proceed to
 negotiations on ground rules until the Union submitted substantive
 proposals on the subject matter did not violate section 7116(a)(1) or
 (5) of the Statute.
 
                                   ORDER
 
    IT IS ORDERED that the complaint in Case No. 2-CA-50221 be, and it
 hereby is, dismissed.
 
    Issued, Washington, D.C., September 25, 1986.
 
                                       /s/ Jerry L. Calhoun, Chairman
                                       /s/ Henry B. Frazier III, Member
                                       /s/ Jean McKee, Member
                                       FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 -------------------- ALJ$ DECISION FOLLOWS --------------------
 
    Case No:  2-CA-50221
 
 DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, SOCIAL 
 SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AND SOCIAL SECURITY 
 ADMINISTRATION FIELD OPERATIONS, NEW YORK REGION
    Respondent
 
                                    and
 
 AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
    Charging Party/Union
 
    Irving L. Becker and Melvin Steuerman,
    For the Respondent
 
    Stanley Chodos,
    For the Charging Party
 
    Jon R. Steen,
    For the General Counsel
    Federal Labor Relations Authority
 
    Before:  ISABELLE R. CAPPELLO
    Administrative Law Judge
 
                                 DECISION
 
                           Statement of the Case
 
    This is a proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act
 of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-454, 92 Stat. 1191, 5 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.
 (1982), commonly known as the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations
 Statute, and hereinafter referred to as the Statute, and the rules and
 regulations issued thereunder and published at 5 CFR 2411 et seq.
 
    Pursuant to a charge of unfair labor practices filed on March 26,
 1985, by Stanley Chodos on behalf of the Charging Party, the Regional
 Director, Region II, of the Federal Labor Relations Authority
 (Authority) investigated and, on May 29, 1985, served the complaint
 initiating this action.
 
    The complaint alleges that Respondent violated Sections 7116(a)(1),
 and (5) /1/ of the Statute by refusing to bargain over ground rules for
 negotiations between Respondent and the Charging Party concerning the
 impact and implementation of a management-initiated change relocating a
 branch office.
 
    On July 16, 1985, a hearing was held in New York City at which the
 parties appeared and submitted a Stipulation of Facts with Joint
 Exhibits 1 through 31.  Jon Steen stated the position of the General
 Counsel and Melvin Steuerman stated that of Respondent.  The General
 Counsel's proposed order and notice to be entered in this case was
 received as General Counsel's Exhibit No. 1.  Briefs were filed by the
 General Counsel and Respondent on August 15.  Based upon the record made
 in this case and the briefs, I enter the following findings of fact and
 conclusions of law and recommend the entry of the following order.
 
                             Findings of Fact
 
    1.  The charge herein was filed by the Charging Party on March 26,
 1985, and a copy thereof was served upon the Respondent by certified
 mail on March 27, 1985 (Joint Exhibit 1 to Stipulation).
 
    2.  On May 29, 1985, the General Counsel by the Regional Director for
 Region II, acting pursuant to Section 7104(f)(2) of the Statute, and 5
 CFR 2423.9(a)(4), issued a Complaint and Notice of Hearing (Joint
 Exhibit 2 to Stipulation).  On June 19, 1985, the Respondent served an
 Answer to the Complaint on the Regional Director (Joint Exhibit 3 to
 Stipulation).
 
    3.  At all times material herein, the Charging Party has been, and is
 now, a labor organization within the meaning of Section 7103(a)(4) of
 the Statute.
 
    4(a).  At all times material herein, the Department of Health and
 Human Services, Social Security Administration (SSA) has been, and is
 now, an agency within the meaning of Section 7103(a)(3) of the Statute.
 
    (b).  At all times material herein, SSA Field Operations, New York
 Region has been, and is now, a constituent entity within the Department
 of Health and Human Services, SSA, and an agent acting on its behalf.
 
    5(a).  At all times material herein, the following named persons
 occupied the positions set forth below, opposite their names:
 
          Peter DiSturco - Regional Commissioner, SSA, New York Region;
 
          Alex W. Bussey - Assistant Regional Commissioner for Field
       Operations, SSA, New York Region;
 
          Michael DiSalvo - Manager, Babylon, New York Branch Office,
       SSA;
 
          Melvin Steuerman - Labor Relations Specialist, SSA, New York
       Region.
 
    (b).  At all times material herein, the individuals named above in
 paragraph 5(a), have been, and are now, supervisors or management
 officials as defined in Section 7103(a)(10) and (11), respectively, of
 the Statute, and have been, and are now, agents of the Respondent acting
 on its behalf.
 
    6(a).  At all times material herein, the Charging Party has been, and
 is now, the certified exclusive representative of a unit of certain
 employees of Respondent, including all employees employed in the
 District and Branch Offices of the SSA in the States of New York and New
 Jersey, excluding all management personnel, professional federal
 employees, employees engaged in personnel work in other than a purely
 clerical capacity, guards and supervisors.
 
    (b).  At all times material herein, the Charging Party has delegated
 to the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals (Council)
 authority to act as its representative for the purposes of collective
 bargaining for certain of Respondent's employees, including employees in
 the New York Region, and the Council's delegation has been recognized by
 Respondent.
 
    (c).  At all times material herein, the American Federation of
 Government Employees, Local 3369, AFL-CIO (AFGE Local 3369) has acted as
 agent for the Council for the purposes of collective bargaining for
 certain of Respondent's employees, including employees at the Babylon,
 New York Branch Office.  AFGE Local 3369's delegation has been
 recognized by Respondent.
 
    7.  SSA, Field Operations, New York Region consists of all Branch and
 District Offices of the Respondent in the States of New York and New
 Jersey including the branch office located at Babylon, New York on Long
 Island.
 
    8.  On February 7, 1985, Charging Party, by its agent Stanley Chodos,
 Grievance Vice President for AFGE Local 3369, learned of a rumor that
 the Babylon, New York Branch Office would be moved.
 
    9.  By letter dated February 8, 1985, the Charging Party, by its
 agent Stanley Chodos, questioned the Respondent concerning the rumor of
 the office relocation (Joint Exhibit 4 to Stipulation).
 
    10.  On February 21, 1985 the Respondent, by its agent Melvin
 Steuerman, Labor Relations Specialist, notified Stanley Chodos by
 telephone that the Babylon Branch Office would move on March 1, 1985.
 Mr. Steuerman informed Mr. Chodos that consultations should take place
 before negotiations were requested.
 
    11.  By letter dated February 21, 1985, the Respondent, by its agent
 Alex Bussey, confirmed that the relocation of the Babylon Branch Office
 was tentatively scheduled to begin on March 1, 1985 and that the office
 would be open to the public at its new location on March 4, 1985.  The
 letter further provided that the move might be delayed.  See Joint
 Exhibit 5 to Stipulation.
 
    12.  The February 21, 1985 oral notification referred to above in
 paragraph 10 was the first notification the Charging Party received from
 Respondent regarding the relocation of the Babylon Branch Office.  The
 Babylon Branch Office had no local on-site representative of the
 Charging Party.
 
    13.  On February 22, 1985 Stanley Chodos contacted Michael DiSalvo,
 the Branch Manager in charge of the Babylon Branch Office, and scheduled
 an appointment for February 28, 1985 for consultation over the office
 relocation.
 
    14.  Pursuant to Article 30, Appendix F, Section I, of the parties'
 collective bargaining agreement, generally, depending on the level
 affected by the change, the parties consult prior to formal negotiations
 being requested (Joint Exhibit 6 to Stipulation).  The majority of
 management proposed changes result in no negotiations taking place.
 
    15.  On February 28, 1985 Stanley Chodos and Michael DiSalvo, the
 Babylon Branch Manager, met to consult over the Babylon office
 relocation.  Mr. Chodos and Mr. DiSalvo viewed both the old and new
 office facilities during the consultation.  Mr. Chodos informed Mr.
 DiSalvo that he would subsequently request bargaining in writing.
 
    16.  By letter dated March 12, 1985, Mr. Chodos requested
 negotiations over the relocation of the Babylon Branch Office and
 pursuant to Section 7114 of the Statute requested copies of old and new
 leases and any information on the exterminator service (Joint Exhibit 7
 to Stipulation).  That letter stated that ground rule proposals were
 enclosed but none were contained with the letter.  The ground rule
 proposals were inadvertently omitted and by a second letter dated March
 12, 1985 the Charging Party acknowledged that error and provided its
 ground rule proposals (Joint Exhibit 8 to Stipulation).
 
    17.  By letter dated March 12, 1985, Mr. Chodos wrote to Mr. DiSalvo
 and provided minutes of their February 28, 1985 consultation (Joint
 Exhibit 9 to Stipulation).  The minutes named six issues as being
 unresolved by the labor-management consultation.
 
    18.  By letter dated March 19, 1985, Mr. DiSalvo informed Mr. Chodos
 of his position that there were certain errors contained in Mr. Chodos's
 consultation minutes (Joint Exhibit 10 to Stipulation).
 
    19.  The Babylon Branch Office moved on March 1, 1985 and the office
 was open for business at the new location on March 4, 1985.  Even though
 the office has moved to its new location in Lindenhurst it is still
 referred to as the Babylon Office.
 
    20.  The parties have stipulated that, at all times material herein,
 including March 21, 1985, the Respondent was under an obligation to
 bargain pursuant to the Statute regarding the impact and implementation
 of the move of the Babylon branch office inasmuch as the move created
 actual and reasonably foreseeable adverse impact of more than a de
 minimis nature on bargaining unit employee working conditions.
 
    21.  On March 21, 1985, Mr. Chodos spoke with Mr. Steuerman by
 telephone.  Mr. Chodos informed Mr. Steuerman that Mr. Chodos and Sharon
 Schwartz would be the Union's negotiators and that they would prepare
 substantive proposals on the move on March 25, 1985 and that those
 proposals would be provided when the parties met to negotiate ground
 rules.  Mr. Steuerman informed Mr. Chodos that Respondent would not
 negotiate ground rules until the Union provided substantive proposals
 pursuant to the Respondent's position that Article 4, Section 1 of the
 parties' collective bargaining agreement requires the Union to submit
 its impact and implementation proposals, not just ground rule proposals,
 within a reasonable period after the notice of the proposed change.  Mr.
 Steuerman also informed Mr. Chodos that the information requested on
 March 12, 1985, was in the process of being obtained.
 
    22.  By letter dated April 1, 1985 Mr. Bussey informed Mr. Chodos
 that the Respondent would not take any action on the Charging Party's
 ground rule proposals until the Union submitted its impact and
 implementation proposals (Joint Exhibit 11 to Stipulation).  The
 Respondent's action was based on its position that Article 4, Section 1
 of the parties' collective bargaining agreement requires the Union to
 submit its impact and implementation proposals, not just ground rule
 proposals, within a reasonable period after the notice of the proposed
 change.  In this letter Respondent also provided the information
 requested by Mr. Chodos, to the extent that it existed.
 
    23.  The Respondent and AFGE Local 3369 have engaged in very few
 negotiations.  The majority of management proposed changes never result
 in negotiations.  Findings 25 through 32 detail the only instances of
 negotiations between the Respondent and AFGE Local 3369 during the term
 of the current agreement.
 
    24.  In May of 1982 AFGE Local 3369 requested negotiations over the
 opening of the Glendale (Ridgewood) Branch office and the reorganization
 of the Bushwick District Office.  Negotiations took place in June
 through July of 1982 with agreements being reached on July 25 and 30,
 1982, respectively (Joint Exhibit 12 to Stipulation).  The parties
 negotiated a single set of ground rules -- prior to the submission of
 substantive proposals -- reaching agreement on July 21, 1982 (Joint
 Exhibit 13 of Stipulation).  The Respondent was of the position that
 these ground rules negotiations were under the old agreement, since the
 bargaining request was made under that agreement.  The effective date of
 the current agreement is June 11, 1982.
 
    25.  In March 1984, AFGE Local 3369 requested negotiations over the
 Boro Hall District Office relocation.  In those negotiations proposed
 ground rules were submitted on or about April 30, 1984 by AFGE Local
 3369 without any substantive proposals being included (Joint Exhibit 14
 to Stipulation).  By letter dated May 10, 1984 the Respondent insisted,
 pursuant to its interpretation of the contract, that substantive
 proposals be submitted (Joint Exhibit 15 to Stipulation).  Substantive
 proposals were submitted on or about May 23, 1984 (Joint Exhibit 16 to
 Stipulation).  Negotiations ultimately did take place over ground rules
 which went to impasse in June of 1984 which ultimately resulted in an
 agreement on ground rules in December 1984.  Negotiations over the
 adverse impact of the relocation are still pending.
 
    26.  In October of 1983 AFGE 3369 requested negotiations over the
 relocation of the South Bronx District Office.  Ground rule proposals
 alone were submitted with the bargaining request (Joint Exhibit 17 to
 Stipulation).  By letter dated November 1, 1983 the Respondent insisted,
 pursuant to its interpretation of the contract, that substantive
 proposals by submitted (Joint Exhibit 18 to Stipulation).  By letter
 dated November 7, 1983 AFGE Local 3369 informed Respondent that it did
 not agree with the position that negotiations required the submission of
 substantive proposals prior to the negotiation of ground rules but that
 to expedite negotiations, due to the impending move, substantive
 proposals would be, and were, provided (Joint Exhibit 19 to
 Stipulation).  The parties went to impasse on both ground rules and
 substantive issues in May of 1984.  Ground rules were finalized in May
 1985;  the negotiations on the substantive proposals were still pending.
 
    27.  In January 1984 AFGE Local 3369 requested negotiations on the
 Respondent's Employee Counseling Service (Joint Exhibit 20 to
 Stipulation).  Ground rule proposals alone were submitted on March 8,
 1984 (Joint Exhibit 21 to Stipulation).  By letter dated March 27, 1984
 Respondent responded to the letter of March 8, 1984 (Joint Exhibit 22 to
 Stipulation).  AFGE Local 3369 submitted its substantive proposals on
 May 3, 1984 (Joint Exhibit 23 to Stipulation).  No negotiations actually
 took place on the employee counseling service as an unfair labor
 practice charge was filed over the matter and no obligation to negotiate
 was found.
 
    28.  In July of 1984 AFGE Local 3369 requested negotiations over the
 elimination of telephone for certain work locations at the South Bronx
 District Office (Joint Exhibit 24 to Stipulation).  AFGE Local 3369
 submitted both its ground rules and substantive proposals simultaneously
 (Joint Exhibit 25 to Stipulation).  No negotiations ever took place as
 an unfair labor practice charge was filed over the matter and no
 obligation to negotiate was found.
 
    29.  On August 20, 1984 AFGE Local 3369 requested negotiations over
 the move of the Riverdale Contact Station.  Both ground rule and
 substantive proposals were submitted together (Joint Exhibit 26 to
 Stipulation).  These negotiations are pending with the assistance of
 mediation.  The ground rules were negotiated before the parties
 proceeded to the substantive proposals.
 
    30.  The Jackson Heights Branch Office Smoking Policy was negotiated
 in February and March of 1984.  Both ground rule and substantive
 proposals were submitted by AFGE at the same time.  Ground rules were
 negotiated first;  the substantive agreement was then negotiated in
 March of 1984.
 
    31.  The parties are currently involved in negotiations over the use
 of a medical release form.  Bargaining was requested by letter dated
 December 31, 1984 (Joint Exhibit 27 to Stipulation).  Ground rule
 proposals were submitted on February 5, 1985 (Joint Exhibit 28 to
 Stipulation).  By letter dated February 19, 1985 the Respondent notified
 AFGE Local 3369 that it would not act on the ground rule proposals until
 substantive proposals were submitted (Joint Exhibiit 29 to Stipulation).
  On April 8, 1985 AFGE Local 3369 submitted its substantive proposals
 under protest (Joint Exhibit 30 to Stipulation).  By letter dated April
 11, 1985 AFGE Local 3369 informed Respondent that it disagreed with
 Respondent's interpretation of Article 4 Section 1 (Joint Exhibit 31 to
 Stipulation).  The Respondent's conduct in regard to the medical release
 form ground rule negotiations is the subject of a separate pending
 unfair labor practice charge.
 
    32.  Neither the Charging Party nor AFGE Local 3369 has ever agreed
 with Respondent's interpretation of Article 4, Section 1 of the parties'
 collective bargaining agreement to the extent it would require
 submission of substantive proposals rather than just ground rules prior
 to bargaining.
 
                        Discussion and Conclusions
 
    The General Counsel has not established, by the preponderance of the
 evidence, /2/ that Respondent has engaged in the alleged unfair labor
 practices, to wit, refusal to bargain over ground rules for negotiations
 concerning the impact and implementation of the relocation of a branch
 office.
 
    It is undisputed that ground-rule negotiations are an integral part
 of the collective bargaining process, both during formal contract
 negotiations, and negotiations conducted as a result of a change in
 conditions of employment made during the term of a collective bargaining
 agreement.  See Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, Columbia,
 Missouri, 16 FLRA 944, 945 (1985).  But this is not a case where an
 agency has refused to negotiate ground rules.  Here, the agency is
 merely insisting that a ground rule negotiated in the parties' National
 Agreement be followed, to wit:
 
          Article IV Negotiations During the Term of the Agreement
 
          Section 1 - General
 
          The Administration will provide the Union reasonable advance
       notice prior to implementation of changes affecting conditions of
       employment subject to bargaining under 5 USC 71.  Upon notice from
       the Administration of a proposed change, the designated union
       representative will notify the designated management
       representative of its desire to consult and/or negotiate on the
       change.
 
          The Union will submit written proposals if applicable within a
       reasonable period after notice of the proposed change.  Bargaining
       will begin as soon as possible, and will not exceed ten (10)
       working days.  All issues not resolved at that time may be
       referred to the Federal Service Impasses Panel for resolution
       under its rules.
 
    See Page 7 of Joint Exhibit 6 to the Stipulation, emphasis added.
 
    Here, the Respondent gave notice of the proposed change to the Union
 on February 21, 1985.  On February 28 the parties met to consult on the
 change, in accordance with the contract, prior to formal negotiations
 being requested.  On March 12, the Union requested formal negotiations
 and submitted proposals for ground rules.  On March 21, and again on
 April 1, management informed the Union that Respondent would not
 negotiate ground rules until the Union provided substantive proposals
 pursuant to its interpretation of Article 4 of the contract.  The Union
 does not agree that Article 4 requires the submission of substantive
 proposals rather than just ground rules prior to bargaining, and has not
 furnished them.
 
    Of course, to the extent that the Union believes the interpretation
 given to Article 4 by the Respondent is in error, it can resort to the
 negotiated grievance and arbitration procedures provided for in Articles
 24 and 25 of the contract.  See pages 44-53 of Joint Exhibit 6 to the
 Stipulation and compare Social Security Administration 15 FLRA 614, 622
 (1984).
 
    But, arguably, the Respondent has placed the correct interpretation
 upon Article 4, which does not distinguish between ground rules and
 substantive proposals -- it just says that "proposals" shall be
 submitted within a reasonable time after notice of a proposed change is
 given.  That this Article is in the nature of a ground rule was
 established by the Authority in Environmental Protection Agency, 16 FLRA
 602, 613 (1984).
 
    Although, as all agree, the Statute requires the parties to negotiate
 ground rules before proceeding to the negotiation of substantive
 proposals, the Statute also obligates the parties to "avoid unnecessary
 delay." See Section 7114(b)(3) of the Statute.  Respondent's
 interpretation of Article 4 of the parties' National Agreement is
 consonant with this obligation, in that negotiation of the substantive
 proposals could follow immediately upon the negotiation of the ground
 rules, in the event that the agreed-upon ground rules so allowed.
 
    Thus, on this record, I am unable to conclude that Respondent
 committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to proceed to ground-rule
 negotiations until the Union complied with a reasonable interpretation
 of a ground rule which the parties had negotiated in their National
 Agreement.  /3/
 
                  Ultimate Findings and Recommended Order
 
    The General Counsel has not established, by the preponderance of the
 evidence, that the Respondent has engaged in the unfair labor practices
 alleged in the complaint.
 
    Accordingly, it is here ORDERED that the complaint be, and hereby is,
 dismissed.
 
                                       /s/ ISABELLE R. CAPPELLO
                                       Administrative Law Judge
 
    Dated:  November 14, 1985
    Washington, DC
 
 
 
 
                ---------------  FOOTNOTES$ ---------------
 
 
    (1) Section 7116 provides, in pertinent pa