36:0606(68)NG - - NTEU and Commerce, Patent and Trademark Office - - 1990 FLRAdec NG - - v36 p606
[ v36 p606 ]
The decision of the Authority follows:
36 FLRA No. 68
FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY
NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE
DECISION AND ORDER ON NEGOTIABILITY ISSUE
August 15, 1990
Before Chairman McKee and Members Talkin and Armendariz.
I. Statement of the Case
This case is before the Authority on a negotiability appeal filed by the Union under section 7105(a)(2)(E) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute). The Agency filed a statement of position and the Union filed a response to that statement. The dispute concerns the negotiability of a proposal that would specify what actions taken by employees will constitute a "count" of work under the Agency's performance standards. The Agency contends that the proposal interferes with its rights under section 7106(a)(2)(A) and (B) of the Statute to assign work and direct employees because it would define the content of the performance standards. We find that the proposal is negotiable because it constitutes a procedure, under section 7106(b)(2), governing the exercise of the Agency's reserved rights under the Statute.
The employees to whom the proposal would apply are trademark attorneys. The attorneys examine trademark applications for legal sufficiency and process the trademark for publication when appropriate. One of the critical elements in the performance appraisal plan for these employees is entitled "Production." Under this element, employees are held accountable for completing a certain number of "balanced production" units per examining hour. Agency's Statement of Position at 2 (Agency's Statement). The Agency counts as units "first actions [on a case]" and "disposals [of a case.]" Id.
In June 1989, during the course of negotiations, the Union proposed that certain intermediate casehandling steps, as well as casehandling steps to be taken in "second examinations," also be counted as work units. Union's Petition for Review at 1-2 (Union's Petition). "Second examinations" are actions that were expected to be required pursuant to a change in trademark laws which was to take effect in November 1989.
ARTICLE "X" - Counts of Work
So long as productivity is evaluated on the basis of counts of work, a "count" will be credited for the following:
1. First actions;
2. Final refusals;
3. Allowances/approvals for publication;
5. First actions;
6. Final refusals;
7. Allowances/approvals for publication;
IV. Positions of the Parties
A. The Agency
According to the Agency, trademark attorneys are held accountable under the Agency's performance appraisal plan (PAP) for a specified number of "balanced production" units (first actions or disposals) per examining hour. The Agency states that it "does not want to measure total productivity or actions worked," but has instead "established a standard for the production of completed cases by counting when the attorney begins work on an application (first action) and when he or she disposes of an application (disposals)." Agency's Statement at 2.
The Agency contends that the portion of the proposal entitled "first examination" would create a category of action--final refusals--to be counted in evaluating employee production in addition to the three types of action that are already included in the PAP--first actions, approvals for publication, and abandonment. Id. at 2-3. The Agency explains that a "final refusal" is not the final step in the processing of an application, but concerns a "requirement to an applicant on a specific issue where the applicant has an opportunity to amend the application." Id. at 3. The Agency states that if the applicant abandons the claim at this point, the employee receives credit for a "disposal"; but if not, credit for a disposal is given when the action is approved for publication or is subsequently abandoned. Id.
As to the Union's characterization of the proposal as determining the aspects of an employee's job that will constitute discrete units for counting purposes, the Agency claims that this characterization is "not appropriate[.]" Id. at 3-4. The Agency contends that the current standard is "not a measure of 'discrete units' for counting an employee's total productivity," but "a measure of how productive an employee is in starting and closing cases[.]" Id. at 4. The Agency argues, therefore, that the proposal "changes the very nature of this standard by measuring total production." Id. The Agency also notes that if the purpose of its performance standards were to measure "total productivity," "there are other intermediate actions which could also be counted." Id.
The Agency notes, citing Patent Office Professional Association and Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce, 29 FLRA 1389 (1987) (Patent and Trademark Office), review denied as to other matters sub nom. Patent Office Professional Association v. FLRA, 873 F.2d 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1989), that proposals that establish general criteria governing the content of performance standards directly interfere with management's rights to direct employees and assign work. The Agency claims that the proposal would "change the intent of the existing standard and preclude management from measuring what it has determined is important." Agency's Statement at 4-5. The Agency also argues that even if the Union withdrew the category of "final refusals" and incorporated the current practice in the proposal, that proposal would still be nonnegotiable because it would "prevent the [A]gency from revising its performance standards to only measure, for example, an employee's production of disposals." Id. at 5.
As to the portion of the proposal entitled "second examination," the Agency contends that, because that part of the proposal contains the same categories of actions as the portion of the proposal entitled "first examination," it is nonnegotiable for the same reasons. Id. The Agency also notes that employees do not currently perform "second examinations," a term which appears to apply to a change in trademark law that was to take effect in November 1989. The Agency states that because it is not able to determine the effect of this change in the law, it does not know whether changes will need to be made in its performance standards. Accordingly, the Agency argues, there is no duty to bargain on this part of the proposal because it concerns a "matter not yet in existence or in issue between the parties." Id. at 6.
B. The Union
The Union contends that the proposal "is plainly identified as a method of counting work" and that, because the proposal is predicated "upon the continuation of evaluating productivity on the basis of counts of work," it "does not require the Agency to continue the present system." Union's Response to the Agency's Statement of Position (Union's Response) at 1, emphasis in original. The Union argues that the proposal would not preclude the Agency from revising the content of the critical elements and performance standards set forth in an employee's PAP.
According to the Union, employee performance in the critical element for "Production" is "based on meeting standards which reflect the employee's relative success in meeting the prescribed counts." Id. at 2. In particular, the Union states that employee performance "is measured by the number of counts per examining hour with overall office goals of taking First Actions within an average of three months and making Disposals within an average of thirteen months." Id. In short, the Union concludes, employee performance is measured in terms of "counts" and the time taken to accumulate those "counts."
The Union notes that some offices within the Patent and Trademark Office regularly deal with goods and services which result in a greater percentage of first actions and argues that employees in those offices are able to accumulate production counts more easily. Id. at 3. The Union also argues that by counting only first actions and disposals, the Agency's PAP "ignores the effort and time spent by some employees in intervening steps of the application process, particularly the process of issuing a Final Refusal." Id.
Because a final refusal may be the final disposition of an application, the Union claims that "a thorough, well-reasoned and supported Final Refusal increases the chances of disposal" and concludes that a final refusal should therefore "be considered as a count of work so that an [employee's] work in making the Final Refusal can be recognized." Id. The Union argues that the proposal implements the requirement of 5 U.S.C. § 4302(b) that performance standards, to the greatest extent feasible, accurately evaluate employee job performance because the proposal establishes "a procedure to ensure an accurate reflection of the effort and time spent by employees in processing applications." Id. at 4.
The Union contends that the proposal does not concern the content of the Agency's standards, but is a procedure for applying those standards. The Union argues that the proposal does not affect the right of the Agency "to adjust those standards to accommodate the manner in which the work is to be counted." Id. at 5. The Union concludes that the Agency's reliance on Patent and Trademark Office is "misplaced." Id. The Union argues that the proposal at issue in Patent and Trademark Office "would have obligated management to change its production goals and create a new production standard[,]" while the proposal in this case would leave management "free to adjust production standards at its discretion[.]" Union's Response at 6.
As to the Agency's claim that it has no duty to bargain over the portion of the proposal concerning "second examinations," the Union argues that the change in the law is a "certain[t]y" and that the Agency has "already revised its procedures to reflect this change in trademark law." Id. at 7. The Union concludes that it "should be permitted to bargain procedural protections in view of the imminent modification of employee duties." Id. The Union also notes that issues as to the existence of a duty to bargain are not properly raised in negotiability procedures, but may be raised in other appropriate proceedings. Id.
V. Analysis and Conclusions
We find that the proposal determines the aspects of an employee's job that will constitute work units for counting purposes in the Agency's performance standards. Consequently, consistent with Authority precedent, we conclude that the proposal is negotiable because it constitutes a procedure, under section 7106(b)(2), governing the exercise of management's rights to direct employees and assign work under section 7106(a)(2)(A) and (B) of the Statute.
The Agency contends that, by requiring it to count final refusals in addition to first actions and disposal actions, the proposal would change the performance standards under the critical element of "Production" from a measure of an employee's performance in starting and closing cases per examining hour to a measure of the total actions taken per examining hour. In thus changing the nature of the Agency's performance standards, the Agency argues, the proposal directly interferes with management's right under section 7106(a)(2)(A) and (B) of the Statute to determine the content of those standards. We disagree.
The Agency appears to assume that the proposal would preclude management from revising its performance standards to achieve the objective of evaluating an employee's performance in starting and closing cases. The Union, however, contends that the proposal preserves management's right to adjust the performance standards to accommodate the manner in which actions are to be counted. In our opinion, the Union's interpretation is consistent with the wording of the proposal.
The proposal requires the Agency only to count final refusals in addition to first actions and disposal actions. The proposal does not require that the Agency continue to use the existing standard for the number of actions per examining hour that would qualify an employee for a particular rating. The Agency is free to increase or decrease that number under the proposal. Nor does the proposal require the Agency to count final refusals in the same way that it counts first actions and disposal actions; it merely requires that final refusals be counted in some manner. For example, nothing in the proposal would preclude the Agency from establishing a standard for first actions and disposal actions and a separate standard for final refusals and other intermediate actions. The proposal also does not prescribe the weight to be given to the count of final refusal actions. The Agency would have discretion to give greater or lesser weight to that count, as well as to determine what the count would represent under its standards. In short, the proposal requires the Agency simply to count a particular action; the significance of that count under the Agency's performance standards remains within the Agency's discretion.
Proposals that require an agency to count a particular action in addition to the actions already being counted under a performance standard, and that preserve the agency's discretion to adjust the performance standard to accommodate the additional action being counted, do not directly interfere with management's right under section 7106(a)(2)(A) and (B) to determine the content of performance standards, but constitute negotiable procedures under section 7106(b)(2). See American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1760, AFL-CIO and Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, 23 FLRA 168, 174-76 (1986) (Social Security Administration); National Treasury Employees Union and Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, 7 FLRA 235, 238-39 (1981) (Internal Revenue Service). See also Patent Office Professional Association and Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce, 25 FLRA 384, 399-400 (1987), affirmed as to other matters mem. sub nom. Patent Office Professional Association v. FLRA, No. 87-1135 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 30, 1988).
Because the proposal in this case requires the Agency simply to count final refusals as well as first actions and disposal actions and does not preclude the Agency from adjusting its performance standards to accommodate the counting of final refusals, we find, consistent with Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service, that the proposal does not directly interfere with management's rights to direct employees and assign work under section 7106(a)(2)(A) and (B) through determining the content of performance standards. Consequently, we conclude that the proposal, including both the portion concerning "first examinations" and the portion concerning "second examinations," is negotiable as a procedure under section 7106(b)(2) of the Statute.
We reject the Agency's additional argument that even if the Union withdrew the category of "final refusals" and incorporated the current practice in the proposal, the proposal would still be nonnegotiable because it would prevent the Agency from revising its performance standards to measure only, for example, an employee's production of disposals. As we found above, because the proposal does not in any manner affect the Agency's ability to adjust its standards, it would not preclude the Agency from changing its standards to preserve the measurement of disposals apart from other actions even if the requirement to count "final refusals" were eliminated.
We also reject the Agency's contention that the portion of the proposal concerning "second examinations" is not properly before us because it has no duty to bargain over that portion of the proposal. The claimed existence of threshold duty to bargain questions does not preclude our determining the negotiability of proposals that are otherwise properly before us. Issues as to the duty to bargain should be raised in other appropriate proceedings. See American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, National Council of Field Labor Locals, Local 3181 and U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, 32 FLRA 1214, 1218 (1988); American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Local 2736 and Department of the Air Force, Headquarters 379th Combat Support Group (SAC), Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan, 14 FLRA 302, 306 n.6 (1984).
The Agency shall, upon request or as otherwise agreed by the parties, bargain over the proposal.(*)