U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Connecticut Healthcare System, Newington, Connecticut (Agency) and National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-109 (Union)

[ v57 p47 ]

57 FLRA No. 15

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
CONNECTICUT HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT
(Agency)

and

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT
EMPLOYEES, LOCAL R1-109
(Union)

0-AR-3339

_____

DECISION

March 30, 2001

_____

Before the Authority: Dale Cabaniss, Chairman; Donald S. Wasserman and Carol Waller Pope, Members.

Decision by Chairman Cabaniss for the Authority.

I.     Statement of the Case

      This matter is before the Authority on exceptions to an award of Arbitrator Joseph B. Rose filed by the Agency under § 7122(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority's Regulations. The Union filed an Opposition to the Agency's exceptions.

      The Arbitrator upheld a grievance alleging that the Agency had violated the negotiated agreement by combining the equal employment opportunity committees and the safety committees from the Newington, Connecticut, and West Haven, Connecticut, Medical Centers following the consolidation of those facilities. The Arbitrator ordered the Agency to restore those committees at the Newington facility, with the level of Union representation on those committees commensurate with the level of Union representation prior to the consolidation of the committees.

      For the reasons that follow, we deny the Agency's exceptions.

II.     Background

      The grievance concerns the merger of the equal employment opportunity ("EEO") committees and the safety committees from the Newington, Connecticut, and West Haven, Connecticut, Medical Centers. Prior to the consolidation of the two Medical Centers, the Agency maintained an EEO committee and a safety committee at each facility. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) represents the bargaining unit at the West Haven Medical Center, while the employees at the Newington Medical Center are represented by the National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-109 (NAGE).

      Following the consolidation of the two facilities, the Agency notified AFGE and NAGE that it intended to merge the safety and EEO committees from each medical center, resulting in one joint safety committee and one joint EEO committee to address issues at both medical centers. AFGE acceded to this request, while NAGE wanted to maintain separate committees at each of the facilities. Despite the opposition from NAGE, the Agency proceeded with its plan and combined the EEO and safety committees.

      Following the merger of the committees, NAGE filed a grievance. After the parties could not resolve the matter, they submitted the grievance to arbitration. In making his decision, the Arbitrator focused on the language contained in the agreement. First, he noted that the agreement called for the establishment of committees at the facility level. [n1]  The Arbitrator then found, based on the language of the agreement, that the Newington Medical Center was such a facility. [n2]  Based on these findings, the Arbitrator determined that the agreement mandated EEO and safety committees at the Newington Medical Center. Accordingly, he ruled that the Agency violated the agreement by combining the EEO and safety committees from the Newington and West Haven Medical Centers. As a remedy to this violation of the agreement, he ordered the Agency to restore the EEO and safety committees at the Newington facility with Union membership on those committees at a level commensurate with the level of representation prior to their combination with the committees of the West Haven Medical Center. [ v57 p48 ]

III.     Positions of the Parties

A.     Agency's Exceptions

      The Agency asserts that the award is contrary to law because it violates management's right to determine its organization under § 7106(a)(1) of the Statute. In this regard, the Agency argues that it has determined that the West Haven and Newington Medical Centers would better operate as one medical service center. Moreover, the Agency maintains that the right to determine its organization encompasses the right to organize committees. Consequently, the Agency asserts that it was within its rights under § 7106(a)(1) when it combined the EEO and safety committees, following its decision to consolidate the facilities.

      The Agency also argues that the award is erroneous because it conflicts with the contractual definition of "facility."

B.     Union's Opposition

      The Union asserts that the Authority has generally found that proposals requesting the establishment of joint labor management committees are negotiable. Specifically, the Union maintains that the Authority has held proposals regarding the purpose, structure, functions and composition of these committees to be negotiable.

IV.     Analysis and Conclusions

A.     The award is not contrary to law

      The Agency's exception concerns whether the Arbitrator's award is contrary to law. In particular, the Agency claims that the award violates management's right under § 7106(a) of the Statute to determine its organization. The Authority reviews questions of law raised by the arbitrator's award and the party's exceptions de novo. See NTEU, Chapter 24, 50 FLRA 330, 332 (1995), citing United States Customs Serv. v. FLRA, 43 F.3d 682, 686-87 (D.C. Cir. 1994). In applying a standard of de novo review, the Authority determines whether the arbitrator's legal conclusions are consistent with the applicable standard of law. See NFFE, Local 1437, 53 FLRA 1703, 1710 (1998). In making that determination, the Authority defers to the arbitrator's underlying factual findings. See id.

      The Authority's framework for resolving exceptions to arbitration awards alleging that the award violates management's rights under § 7106 of the Statute is set forth in United States Dep't of the Treasury, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Washington, D.C., 53 FLRA 146, 151-54 (1997) (BEP). Under BEP, the Authority first determines whether the award affects a management right under § 7106(a).

      Generally, management's right to determine its organization encompasses an agency's authority to determine its administrative and functional structure. Int'l Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 49, 52 FLRA 813, 819 (1996) (IFPTE, Local 49). This right also encompasses the right to determine the relationship of personnel through lines of control and the distribution of responsibilities for delegated and assigned duties. NAGE, Locals R5-136 and R5-150, 55 FLRA 679, 682 (1999).

      The Agency claims that the right to determine its organization encompasses the right to organize all committees, but offers no precedent to support this assertion. The right to establish committees is not as broad as the Agency asserts, however. In Local 3, Int'l Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO, 25 FLRA 714 (1987), the agency argued that a proposal to establish a joint labor-management committee to make recommendations to management concerning the physical environment interfered with its right to determine its organization. The Authority, however, rejected that argument, finding that the proposed committee did not interfere with management's rights as the proposed committee did not have the power to make substantive decisions.

      Moreover, nothing in the award or the agreement suggests that the EEO and safety committees involve the Union in the Agency's decision-making regarding its administrative and functional structure within the meaning of IFPTE, Local 49. Accordingly, we conclude that the award requiring the re-establishment of the committees at the Newington Medical Center does not affect management's right to determine its organization. Because the award does not affect management rights under § 7106(a)(1), the remainder of the BEP analysis is not required. United States Dep't of the Navy, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va., 55 FLRA 1103, 1105 (1999). Accordingly, we deny this exception.

B.     The award draws its essence from the agreement

      The Agency also argues that the award conflicts with the contractual definition of "facility" and that it is erroneous for that reason as well. As this argument challenges the Arbitrator's interpretation of the parties' agreement, we construe this to be an argument that the award does not draw its essence from that agreement.

      For an award to be found deficient as failing to draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement, it must be established that the award: (1) cannot [ v57 p49 ] in any rational way be derived from the agreement; (2) is so unfounded in reason and fact and so unconnected with the wording and purposes of the agreement as to manifest an infidelity to the obligation of an arbitrator; (3) does not represent a plausible interpretation of the agreement; or (4) evidences a manifest disregard of the agreement. United States Dep't of Defense, Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Distribution Center, New Cumberland, Pa., 55 FLRA 1303, 1307 (2000) (then-Member Cabaniss concurring); United States Dep't of Labor (OSHA), 34 FLRA 573, 575 (1990).

      The Agency claims that the Arbitrator misinterpreted the term "facility" in his decision. The Arbitrator interpreted the term "facility" by directly using the contractual definition of that term (a "medical center or cemetery"). Based on that definition, he ruled that the Newington Medical Center was a facility. This interpretation, then, springs directly from the language contained in the agreement and is a reasonable interpretation of that language. It is no way unfounded, irrational, implausible and it does not evidence a manifest disregard for the agreement. Therefore, we deny this exception.

V.     Decision

      The Agency's exceptions are denied.



Footnote # 1 for 57 FLRA No. 15

   The relevant provisions read as follows:

Article 30, Section 3: The Locals will be given an opportunity to participate on facility-level EEO Committ