U.S. Department of the Air Force, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio and American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

[ v55 p359 ]

55 FLRA No. 58

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE
AIR FORCE MATERIEL COMMAND
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO
(Agency)

and

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
(Petitioner)

CH-RP-70058

_____

DECISION AND ORDER ON REVIEW

April 16, 1999

_____

Before the Authority: Phyllis N. Segal, Chair; Donald S. Wasserman and Dale Cabaniss, Members

I.      Statement of the Case

      This case is before the Authority on the Petitioner's application for review of the Regional Director's (RD's) decision dismissing a petition to consolidate seven bargaining units. [n1] The RD concluded that the proposed unit was not appropriate, as defined by section 7112(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute). The Agency filed an opposition to the Petitioner's application.

      For the following reasons, we grant review and conclude that the RD failed to apply established law. We remand the petition for further processing consistent with this decision.

II.     Background and the RD's Decision

      The Petitioner seeks to consolidate one already-existing, consolidated nationwide bargaining unit of 42,000 employees with six smaller units of approximately 5,600 employees. All units are represented by the Petitioner at the Agency. American Federation of Government Employees, Council 214 is the agent of the Petitioner for the purpose of representing unit employees in the existing consolidated unit (the AFGE Council 214 unit). Six AFGE Locals represent the units that Petitioner seeks to include in the consolidated unit (the Local units).

      The Agency was formed in 1992 from the consolidation of two organizations, the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) and the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC). The AFSC had been responsible for the research, development, testing, acquisition, and delivery of Air Force weapons systems. The AFLC had been responsible for logistical support of AFSC-developed systems. The Agency is now responsible for every aspect of weapons systems--from conceptualization through creation and testing to final disposition. Five organizational subdivisions comprise the Agency: the Air Force Research Laboratory, which identifies high-performance technologies for future combat use; the Product Centers, which produce and acquire weapons systems; the Test Centers, which evaluate weapons technologies; the Air Logistics Centers, which maintain and revamp weapons technologies; and the Specialty Centers, which maintain data regarding parts, reclaim and dispose of aircraft, and manage foreign customers' weapons systems. See Appendix.

      The AFGE Council 214 unit is comprised mostly, but not entirely, of former AFLC-based units; it also includes a former AFSC-based unit, the Aeronautical Systems Center, located in the Product Center. The employees from former AFLC-based units are located in the Air Force Research Laboratory, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (approximately 5,600 employees), and the Air Logistics Centers, located at five Air Force bases (approximately 36,000 employees). The record is unclear as to whether the AFGE Council 214 employees in the Specialty Centers are former-AFLC or AFSC-based.

      Five of the Local units are former AFSC-based units. Of these five units, two are located in the Product Centers and three are located in the Test Centers. The sixth Local unit is a research laboratory that was formerly located in the Air Force's Air Mobility Command and was added to the Agency at the time that the AFSC and AFLC merged. A seventh unit, which is represented by AFGE Local 2612 at Rome Laboratory, Griffiss Air Force Base, (the Griffiss Unit) is not included in this petition.

      Employees in the proposed consolidated unit are employed in a wide range of position classifications. A large percentage of employees in the AFGE Council 214 unit is involved in logistics operations. Employees in the Local units are involved in research, testing, and acquisition of weapons systems. [ v55 p360 ]

      Agency personnel policies are set pursuant to Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force instructions, as well as supplements to these instructions. Employees in the Council 214 and Local units share the same payroll, leave, disability, workers compensation, retirement, health and life insurance systems. The Agency delegates some personnel and labor relations authority to lower-level organizations. Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by subordinate organizations within the Air Force at the level of recognition. DOD reviews these agreements, through its Field Advisory Service, for their consistency with law, rule and regulation.

      The Agency has negotiated a national collective bargaining agreement with AFGE Council 214, which applies to the entire AFGE Council 214 unit. This national agreement allows for local supplemental agreements. Within the Agency, the authority and responsibility for handling unfair labor practices, grievances and negotiability matters concerning AFGE Council 214 rest at Agency headquarters. Authority and responsibility for certain day-to-day labor relations and personnel matters rest at local levels.

      The six Local units have negotiated collective bargaining agreements at each individual location. Local base commanders are authorized to negotiate these agreements, and to handle all labor relations matters.

      Evaluating the petition, the RD applied § 7112(d) of the Statute, which governs the consolidation of separate bargaining units represented by one union. [n2] The RD stated that a proposed consolidated unit will be found appropriate if it satisfies the three criteria for an appropriate unit set out in § 7112(a). [n3]  RD's Decision at 17-18 (citing Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3313, AFL-CIO and Department of Transportation Research and Special Programs Administration, Washington, D.C., and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3313, AFL-CIO, 5 FLRA 646, 652 (1981) (Department of Transportation)).

      The RD concluded that the proposed consolidated unit did not satisfy any of the section 7112(a) criteria. Relying on U.S. Department of Justice and American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, 17 FLRA 58 (1985) (Department of Justice), the RD found that the employees in the proposed consolidated unit did not share a community of interest, for several reasons. First, he determined that the relevant components did not share a common mission. He found that, although Agency product centers, test centers, logistics bases and research laboratories share an overall mission, each component "has its own specific mission." RD's Decision at 18. Next, the RD determined that the occupations of employees in the AFGE Council 214 and Local units were not similar, because the Council 214 unit consists of, "in the main, employees . . . from logistics bases[,] . . . industrial complexes that provide scheduled maintenance, overhaul or refurbishment of weapon systems." Id. In contrast, the RD found that the composition of the six Local units consists of "research and development facilities" with "each having a different mission from the logistics bases." Id. at 18-19. The RD also found that employees from the six Local units had "minimal interaction" with those in the AFGE Council 214 unit, and he noted that there is minimal job mobility between the units. Id. at 19. Finally, the RD determined that a community of interest was lacking because the six Local units are subject to "significant local control" over personnel and labor relations issues. Id.

      The RD also determined that the proposed consolidation would not promote effective dealings or efficient agency operations. He relied on his finding that the units did not share a community of interest, emphasizing that local control existed over personnel, labor, and working condition issues affecting the Local units. The Local units, he found, were not shown by the Petitioner to have ineffective labor-management relations. Nor was it shown that consolidation would improve the "difficult and adversarial" relationship between the Agency and the AFGE Council 214 unit. Id. at 20 n.6. The RD also determined that the Petitioner's failure to include the Griffiss unit in its petition rendered the petition "inconsistent with the purposes of section 7112(a) and (d)." Id. at 20. [ v55 p361 ]

      Based on the foregoing, the RD dismissed the petition to consolidate the units.

III.     Positions of the Parties

A.     Petitioner

      The Petitioner asserts that the proposed consolidated unit is appropriate under section 7112(a) of the Statute, and that the RD failed to apply established law. The Petitioner argues that the units share a clear and identifiable community of interest and that the RD's conclusion to the contrary erred in three respects.

      First, the Petitioner asserts that Agency components share interdependent, common missions in that the Local units and the components of the AFGE Council 214 unit perform similar "support functions" in relation to the Agency's overall mission. The Petitioner argues that this view is bolstered by the significant amount of interchange that occurs between all of these units.

      Second, the Petitioner asserts that Agency components have a large degree of commonality of positions within each Agency component, as well as commonality of positions between the types of components. Application for Review at 11. The Petitioner argues that employees in a large percentage of these positions "are interchangeable" with training. Id.

      Third, the Petitioner maintains that, although the record supports the RD's finding that certain personnel and labor relations matters are handled locally, the AFGE Council 214 and Local units nonetheless share a community of interest because local policies must conform with DOD and Agency directives.

      With respect to the other statutory criteria for an appropriate unit, effective dealings and efficient operations, the Petitioner argues that the RD erred when he determined that the Petitioner had not demonstrated that consolidation would improve the labor relationships of the Local units. This determination, the Petitioner asserts, applies a higher legal standard than appropriate, because the Petitioner need only show that Agency operations "should benefit" from consolidation. Id. at 12-13.

      The Petitioner also asserts that consolidation of the petitioned-for units will "creat[e] a more comprehensive and effective bargaining unit" and "reduce duplication." Id. at 13. Economic benefit will accrue to the Agency, the Petitioner argues, because the need to negotiate agreements at each installation will be reduced. Consolidation also will enhance the representation rights of employees in the petitioned-for units, according to the Petitioner, because it will reduce unit fragmentation and permit employees in the Local units to engage in additional substantive bargaining.

B.     Agency

      The Agency asserts that the RD did not err when he determined that employees in the proposed consolidated unit did not share a community of interest. Contrary to the Petitioner's assertion, the Agency argues that the amount of interchange between employees of the various installations is insignificant. According to the Agency, the RD's findings are supported by the fact that the "primary function and source of funding" for five of the six Local units here is distinct from the AFGE Local 214 unit. Opposition at 1-2.

      Acknowledging that personnel and labor relations regulations apply to all personnel, the Agency asserts that this does not establish a community of interest because these regulations apply to all employees regardless of union affiliation, supervisory status and even military and civilian status. Further, the Agency asserts the Petitioner failed to demonstrate that consolidation would not have a negative impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of agency operations.

IV.      Analysis and Conclusions

      Section 7112(d) of the Statute permits consolidation of two or more bargaining units represented by the same exclusive representative "if the Authority considers the larger unit to be appropriate." This provision was intended by Congress to "better facilitate the consolidation of small units" into more comprehensive ones. Department of Transportation, 5 FLRA at 652 (quoting 124 Cong. Rec. H9634 (daily ed. Sept. 13, 1978) (statement of Representative Udall)). Consolidation serves a statutory interest in reducing unit fragmentation and in promoting an effective, comprehensive bargaining unit structure. See Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Dallas, Texas and American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, 5 FLRA 657, 661-62 (1981) (AAFES); Air Force Logistics Command, United States Air Force Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio and International Association of Fire Fighters, (AFLC Council), AFL-CIO-CLC, 7 FLRA 210, 214 (1981) (AFLC).

      The reference in section 7112(d) to the consolidation of "appropriate" units incorporates the appropriate unit criteria established in section 7112(a). Those criteria provide that a unit may be determined to be appropriate if it will: (1) ensure a clear and identifiable community of interest among the employees in the unit; (2) promote effective dealings with the agency [ v55 p362 ] involved; and (3) promote efficiency of the operations of the agency involved. 5 U.S.C. § 7112(a). The Authority has identified a number of factors that generally indicate whether these statutory criteria are met, see generally, United States Department of the Navy, Fleet and Industrial Supply Center, Norfolk, Virginia, 52 FLRA 950, 960-61 (1997) (FISC), and has consistently applied certain of these factors in consolidation cases. See Department of Justice, 17 FLRA at 62; AAFES, 5 FLRA at 660; Department of Transportation, 5 FLRA at 652.

      The Petitioner asserts that the RD's Decision misapplied the statutory criteria, as construed by the Authority, and that the proposed consolidated unit is appropriate. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the RD did not properly evaluate the community of interest criteria, and that it is necessary to remand the petition for further findings on certain of the issues relevant to this first statutory criteria. We also conclude, contrary to the RD's finding, that the proposed unit promotes effective dealings and the efficiency of operation of the agency, satisfying the second and third statutory criteria.

A.      The RD failed to properly evaluate the community of interest criteria.

      In his decision, the RD relied on the factors that have been used in consolidation cases to evaluate whether a community of interest has been established. These factors are:

the degree of commonality and integration of the mission and function of the components involved; the distribution of the employees involved throughout the organizational and geographical components of the agency; the degree of similarity in the occupational undertakings of the employees in the proposed unit; and the locus and scope of personnel and labor relations authority and functions.

Department of Justice, 17 FLRA at 62; see also Naval Submarine Base, New London Naval Submarine School, Naval Submarine Support Facility New London, Personnel Support Activity New London and Naval Hospital Groton and National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-100, SEIU, AFL-CIO, 46 FLRA 1354, 1360-61 (1993). As in other appropriate unit determinations, these factors are applied on a case-by-case basis, and the Authority has not specified the number of factors needed to find a clear and identifiable community of interest. See FISC, 52 FLRA at 960.

1.      Commonality of Agency mission and integration of function

      The RD concluded that, despite their common role in support of the Agency's overall mission, the separate components at issue have distinct missions that tend to render consolidation inappropriate. The Authority has held, however, that the separate missions of each component need only "bear a relationship" to one another, and the functions need only be "similar or supportive" to warrant consolidation. Department of the Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, 8 FLRA 15, 22 (1982) (Department of the Navy). See also AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661 (stating that "while the [agency] pointed out the distinct role played by the Distribution Regions, it is clear that their function is integrally related to that of the Exchange Regions").

      The Petitioner's claim that the former AFSC and AFLC components have a common mission and function is buttressed by the Authority's holding in U.S. Department of the Air Force, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1138, 47 FLRA 602, 607 (1993) (AFMC). In AFMC, the Authority found that former AFSC employees in a Product Center had "accreted" into the Council 214 unit. The conclusion that the former AFSC employees should be included in this appropriate unit was based, in part, on a finding that "as a result of the consolidation of the AFLC and AFSC, the employees of the AFMC share a common mission and organizational structure . . . ." Id. at 610. The RD's conclusion here that the "distinct" mission of each component overrides the significance of the Agency's common mission and function is not supported by either the general standards established by Authority precedent or our past findings with respect to these parties.

      Based on the foregoing, we conclude that the components involved have a sufficient degree of commonality and integration of mission and function to justify the appropriateness of the consolidated unit.

2.     Similarity of Occupational Undertakings

      The RD determined, as a general matter, that because the "nature of the work" performed by employees in the Local units differed from that of employees in the AFGE Council 214 unit, the proposed consolidated unit did not contain sufficiently similar occupations to establish a community of interest. RD's Decision at 18-19. He based this finding on a conclusion that "in the main," employees in the AFGE Council 214 unit work [ v55 p363 ] at logistics bases, which are "industrial complexes," and the employees from the six Local units are assigned to "research and development facilities." Id. at 18.

      In addition to these general conclusions, the RD made factual findings with regard to the occupational categories contained in the AFGE Council 214 and Local units. For example, in his discussion of the factual background, the RD included a chart of "Top Occupational Categories" in the Council 214 and Local units. RD's Decision at 13. These raw numbers suggest that similar positions exist in significant proportions in the current consolidated unit and the units proposed to be added. The RD did not, however, address these findings in his analysis. The RD's analysis also does not account for the fact that the existing consolidated unit contains significant numbers of employees who are involved in the research aspects of the Agency's work.

      We conclude that the RD's general conclusions are not sufficiently supported by an explanation of the specific factual evidence he set forth. In addition, the record contains extensive additional evidence of the positions held by employees in the AFGE Council 214 and Local units. Given the complexity of the record on this issue and the factual findings made in the decision, we are unable to determine whether the commonality of positions in the proposed unit supports consolidation.

3.      Labor Relations and Personnel Authority

      In evaluating whether an agency's personnel and labor relations policies favor consolidation, the Authority assesses whether employees "work under similar personnel and labor relations policies[.]" AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661. This factor does not require that labor relations and personnel decisions be processed centrally. For example, in AAFES, these matters were regulated generally by the central commander, but "many day to day decisions affecting employees [were] made by base exchange mangers[.]" Id. at 659; accord, Department of the Navy, 8 FLRA at 23.

      The decision contains findings that support the Petitioner's position that Agency personnel and labor relations policies favor consolidation. The RD acknowledged that all Agency civilian employees share policies imposed by DOD, the Air Force and the Agency. Further, the RD found that "[a]ll AFMC employees are subject to the same personnel and administrative policies and practices for payroll, leave, disability and workers compensation benefits, retirement, health and life insurance." RD's Decision at 14. The RD concluded that these similarities are not decisive in light of what he characterized as "operational responsibility" of the "processing" of personnel administration at the local level. Id. at 15.

      However, the applicable legal standard looks to whether policy-making authority over personnel and labor relations policy is consistent with the proposed consolidation, rather than whether the administration or "operation" of these policies is local or centralized. The degree of centralized policy making and decentralized personnel and labor relations administration described by the RD does not compel a finding that these facts undermine the appropriateness of the proposed unit.

      Further, the current practice at the Agency supports a conclusion that the Agency's personnel and labor relations structure justifies consolidation. The Agency currently provides personnel and labor relations services for the nationwide, AFGE Council 214 unit and there is no indication in the decision that its personnel and labor relations structure undermines the appropriateness of this consolidated unit. If the current structure of personnel administration is consistent with the operation of the 42,000 employee AFGE Council 214 unit, then it is also consistent with the operation of a slightly larger consolidated unit that includes the Local units.

      Based on the foregoing, we find that the employees at issue work under sufficiently similar personnel and labor relations policies to support consolidation. We also find that there is sufficient commonality of mission and operation to support consolidation. However, it is not possible for us to make a determination as to whether the proposed unit satisfies the community of interest criteria, because we are unable to determine whether the proposed unit contains sufficient commonality of occupations. Further, the RD's Decision does not address, at all, the "distribution of the employees involved throughout the Agency," which the Authority has described as a "primary" element in evaluating whether a community of interest exists in consolidation cases. [n4]  We therefore remand the case to the RD for a determination of whether the commonality of occupations and distribution of employees favors consolidation, and, in light of these findings and the findings [ v55 p364 ] contained in this decision, whether the proposed unit of employees has sufficient community of interest to support an appropriate unit.

B. .     The RD failed to apply established law with respect to the requirement that consolidation promote effective dealings and the efficiency of the agency operations.

      In determining whether consolidation would promote effective dealings and efficient agency operations, the Authority examines a number of factors, including: whether personnel and labor relations authority is centralized and broad operating polices exist at the national level; whether consolidation will reduce bargaining unit fragmentation, thereby, "promoting a more effective, comprehensive bargaining unit structure to effectuate the purposes of the Statute" (AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661-62); and whether the unit would adequately reflect the agency's organizational structure or would require creating a new agency structure. Department of Defense, National Guard Bureau and National Federation of Federal Employees, Independent, Department of Defense, National Guard Bureau and National Association of Government Employees, 13 FLRA 232, 237 (1983); Department of Agriculture Farmers Home Administration and National Federation of Federal Employees, Independent, 20 FLRA 216, 221 (1985). As a general matter, the Authority also considers the past collective bargaining experience of the parties in making "effective dealings" determinations. FISC, 52 FLRA at 961.

      Initially, we note that the RD's determination that effective dealings and efficient Agency operations would not be promoted by consolidating these units was based, in large part, on his determination that a lack of community of interest exists in the proposed consolidated unit, which we have vacated above. See RD's Decision at 20.

      In addition, the RD found that these criteria were not met because there was not a showing that consolidation would improve labor-management relationships. While the past bargaining experience of the parties is a proper factor to evaluate in making a determination of "effective dealings," this factor does not require that a petitioner in a consolidation case establish that collective bargaining relationships will be improved by the consolidation. Section 7112(d) permits unions to consolidate existing units as long as the consolidated unit is appropriate. There is no requirement in the Statute that the consolidated unit be more appropriate than the unconsolidated units. See generally, FISC, 52 FLRA at 959 n.5; American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2004 and Letterkenny Army Depot and Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Distribution Region East, 47 FLRA 969, 973 (1993).

      As explained above, the purpose of section 7112(d) is to facilitate consolidation, on the ground that reducing unit fragmentation promotes an effective bargaining unit structure. See Department of Transportation, 5 FLRA at 652; AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661-62. We conclude that this statutory scheme reflects a judgment that consolidation and the resulting reduction in unit fragmentation promotes effective labor relations, as long as the resulting unit is appropriate. The RD's requirement that the Petitioner demonstrate an improvement in relationships, rather than demonstrate that the new unit meets the statutory test for appropriateness, is inconsistent with section 7112(d).

      Finally, the RD rejected the Petitioner's argument that the proposed consolidation would reduce unit fragmentation, on the ground that the "purpose of a consolidation petition is to consolidate all of an exclusive representative's existing units within an agency into a single larger comprehensive unit." RD's Decision at 20 (citing AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661-62; Department of the Navy, 8 FLRA at 23; and AFLC). The RD found that this purpose was not met, because the Petitioner had not included the Griffiss Unit in its petition to consolidate six units into the AFGE Council 214 unit.

      The purpose of consolidation is to reduce fragmentation of units. See AAFES, 5 FLRA at 661-62. The Authority has never imposed a requirement that a consolidation petition eliminate unit fragmentation. The consolidation of six AFGE bargaining units into the current consolidated unit reduces unit fragmentation. The fact that one bargaining unit was not included in the proposed consolidation indicates that a different petition might have reduced unit fragmentation even more than the petition presented; it does not establish that the current petition does not reduce unit fragmentation.

      Consistent with the foregoing, we find that the proposed unit does promote effective dealings and the efficiency of Agency operations. [n5] 

V.      Order

      The application is granted, the decision is vacated and the petition is remanded to the RD for further processing consistent with this decision.


File 1: Authority's Decision in 55 FLRA No. 58
File 2: Appendix


Footnote # 1 for 55 FLRA No. 58 - Authority's Decision

   In addition to the request to consolidate the seven bargaining units, the petition sought to amend the bargaining unit description of one of the units. The RD granted this portion of the petition. This conclusion is not challenged in the application and has become final, pursuant to section 2422.32(e)(1) of the Authority's Regulations.


Footnote # 2 for 55 FLRA No. 58 - Authority's Decision

   Section 7112(d) of the Statute provides:

Two or more units which are in an agency and for which a labor organization is the exclusive representative may, upon petition by the agency or labor organization, be consolidated with or without an election into a single larger unit if the Authority considers the larger unit to be appropriate. The Authority shall certify the labor organization as the exclusive representative of the new larger unit.

Footnote # 3 for 55 FLRA No. 58 - Authority's Decision

   Section 7112(a) of the Statute provides:

The Authority shall determine the appropriateness of any unit. The Authority shall determine in each case whether, in order to ensure employees the fullest freedom in exercising the rights guaranteed under this chapter, the appropriate unit should be established on an agency, plant installation, functional, or other basis and shall determine any unit to be an appropriate unit only if the determination will ensure a clear and identifiable community of interest among the employees in the unit and will promote effective dealings with, and efficiency of the operations of the agency involved.

Footnote # 4 for 55 FLRA No. 58 - Authority's Decision

   Department of the Navy, 8 FLRA at 22 (representation of employees in each major type of installation and geographic area renders consolidation "meaningful"); see Department of Justice, 17 FLRA at 62, compare AAFES 5 FLRA at 660 (representation in all major geographic and organizational components supports "meaningful consolidated unit"), with U.S. Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command and National Association of Government Employees, 11 FLRA 156, 160 (1983) (no community of interest where union only represents employees in small proportion of subordinate commands and activities).


Footnote # 5 for 55 FLRA No. 58 - Autho