United States Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers, United States Army Engineer District, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Agency/Petitioner) and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3310, AFL-CIO (Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor) and National Federation of Federal, Employees, Federal District 1, Iamaw, AFL-CIO (Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor) and International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees, Local 1472, AFL-CIO (Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor) and International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees, Local 1017, AFL-CIO (Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor)

[ v57 p620 ]

57 FLRA No. 118

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
CORPS OF ENGINEERS
UNITED STATES ARMY ENGINEER DISTRICT
VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI
(Agency/Petitioner)

and

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT
EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 3310, AFL-CIO
(Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor)

and

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL
EMPLOYEES, FEDERAL DISTRICT 1
IAMAW, AFL-CIO
(Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor)

and

INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF
PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL EMPLOYEES
LOCAL 1472, AFL-CIO
(Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor)

and

INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF
PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL EMPLOYEES
LOCAL 1017, AFL-CIO
(Labor Organization/Incumbent Intervenor)

_____

DECISION AND ORDER ON
APPLICATION FOR REVIEW

December 3, 2001

AT-RP-00037

_____

Before the Authority: Dale Cabaniss, Chairman, and
Carol Waller Pope and Tony Armendariz, Members

I.      Statement of the Case

      This case is before the Authority on an application for review filed by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE) under § 2422.31 of the Authority's Regulations, seeking review of the Acting Regional Director's (RD's) decision granting a petition to accrete certain employees into an existing bargaining unit. [ v57 p621 ]

      The RD found that, as a result of a reorganization, three geographically dispersed offices of employees had accreted into a bargaining unit represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3310 (AFGE). For the reasons that follow, we deny IFPTE's application for review.

II.      Background and RD's Decision

      The United States Army Engineer District, Vicksburg (MVK) created the Vicksburg Consolidated Contracting Office (VCCO) in 1997 by administratively consolidating its local contracting offices and the contracting office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station (WES), which is also located in Vicksburg. Organizationally, VCCO is a component of MVK and the Commander of VCCO reports directly to the Commander of MVK.

      Subsequently, in 1998, the Engineering Research Development Center (ERDC) was established. ERDC, whose headquarters are also in Vicksburg, serves as a centralized command for support services. At the same time, the employees who perform contracting functions at ERDC's area offices, located in Hanover, New Hampshire (CRREL), Champaign, Illinois (CERL) and Alexandria, Virginia (TEC), were placed under the operational control of VCCO, although they remained physically at their same location and were still assigned to ERDC organizations.

      On August 15, 1999, the employees of TEC, CERL and CRREL (the area offices) who perform contracting functions, and who were already under the operational control of VCCO, were transferred administratively from ERDC to VCCO. As a result of the 1999 reorganization, all of MVK's contracting functions and employees were now assigned to VCCO, although the reassigned employees' immediate supervision remained unchanged.

      At the time of the 1999 reorganization, AFGE represented MVK's bargaining unit employees, including the employees of VCCO who are assigned to VCCO's offices in Vicksburg. [n1] This unit consists of approximately 450 employees, 26 of whom are assigned to the four offices of VCCO located at MVK's facilities in Vicksburg. IFPTE represents the employees of CERL and CRREL, who were reassigned to VCCO, while the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) represents the employees of TEC who were reassigned to VCCO. Approximately twenty employees of the area offices were reassigned to VCCO as a result of the 1999 reorganization.

      VCCO provides contracting support services to MVK, ERDC's headquarters and all other offices previously serviced by the WES contracting office. All of the employees at VCCO's offices in Vicksburg and in the field offices perform similar functions and duties and are classified as contract specialists, purchasing agents and procurement clerks.

      The Civilian Personnel Advisory Center in Huntsville, Alabama, provides personnel services to MVK, including VCCO. The authority for hiring, firing, awards, payroll classification, performance evaluation and collective bargaining for all of VCCO's offices rests with MVK. There is a single competitive area for reduction-in-force purposes for all of MVK's employees, including all of the employees of VCCO, regardless of their duty station.

      The RD found that all of VCCO's employees were "thoroughly integrated" in providing contracting services following the reorganization. In this regard, employees at VCCO headquarters communicate on a daily basis via e-mail with VCCO employees assigned to the area offices. VCCO employees in the field offices can also access their training plans, ask questions and make leave requests through their computers to VCCO headquarters. Furthermore, any VCCO employee, regardless of his or her location, can perform contracting work for any of MVK's or ERDC's organizations. Moreover, in some instances, team leaders in one of the Vicksburg or area offices have assigned work to employees in a different VCCO office.

      Based on these reorganizations, MVK filed a petition to clarify the existing unit represented by AFGE to include the employees who were reassigned administratively from the area offices to VCCO. The RD first considered whether or not the accretion principles were applicable to this case. In this regard, she noted that the Authority will only apply accretion principles when a change in agency operations affecting the appropriateness of the unit under § 7112(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) occurs. [n2] She then found that the consolidation of contracting functions in 1997 and the reassignment of employees from ERDC to VCCO constituted such a change. [ v57 p622 ]

      The RD next considered whether separate units of VCCO employees at the area offices would be appropriate under the Statute. In this regard, she determined that the work and working conditions of the VCCO area offices in question were not unique when compared to the work and working conditions of VCCO employees assigned to other offices. Moreover, she found that the employees of the various offices of VCCO regularly interact and that the employees of the various offices are not distinct offices with their own administrative and managerial authority. Finally, she determined that separate units of VCCO employees at these offices would result in separate groups of VCCO employees subject to the same procedures and policies and that the proposed units would not be structured in accordance with MVK's organizational structure. Based on these considerations, the RD ruled that separate units of VCCO employees would not be appropriate as VCCO's employees assigned to the area offices do not share a community of interest separate from the rest of VCCO's employees. She further found that the proposed separate units would not promote effective dealings or the efficiency of operations.

      The RD then considered whether or not the employees who had been transferred to VCCO from the area offices had accreted into the bargaining unit represented by AFGE. She first found that those employees shared a community of interest with the employees in that unit, as they had been organizationally and operationally integrated into MVK. In this connection, the RD stressed that the area office VCCO employees were now covered by the same policies and practices as all of MVK's other employees. She further determined that the close, daily interaction of the all of the VCCO employees, regardless of location, had resulted in a functional and operational integration of VCCO.

      The RD also determined that a unit encompassing all of the bargaining unit employees in VCCO would promote effective dealings and the efficiency of MVK's operations. Having found that all of the § 7112(a) criteria were satisfied, the RD concluded that the proposed unit was appropriate under § 7112(a) of the Statute. Accordingly, she found that the VCCO employees assigned to the area offices had accreted into the bargaining unit represented by AFGE and that that unit should be clarified to include those employees.

III.     Positions of the Parties

A.     IFPTE's Application for Review

      IFPTE asserts that the case raises issues for which there is an absence of precedent. [n3] IFPTE argues that, in determining that the relevant employees shared a community of interest, the RD relied almost entirely on the notion that the affected employees work together in a "virtual office." Exceptions at 2. IFPTE maintains that the employee integration in this case consists almost entirely of electronic communications and rarely includes work in the same physical location. IFPTE requests that the Authority grant review in this case to establish criteria to determine when employee integration and interaction consisting almost entirely of electronic communication should be considered while evaluating the extent to which geographically dispersed employees share a community of interest.

B.     MVK's Opposition

      MVK maintains that accretion is not an issue for which there is an absence of precedent. Additionally, MVK argues that physical integration and interaction is not dispositive on the issue. Instead, MVK claims that the pertinent issue in determining whether an accretion has occurred is determining whether an organizationally and functionally integrated unit exists.

IV.     Analysis and Conclusions

      Under § 7112(a) of the Statute, a unit may be determined to be appropriate only 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 involved; and (3) promote efficiency of the operations of the agency involved. United States Dep't of the Navy, Fleet and Industrial Supply Ctr., Norfolk, Va., 52 FLRA 950, 959 (1997) (FISC) (citing Def. Mapping Agency, Aerospace Ctr., St. Louis, Mo., 46 FLRA 502, 509 (1992) (Def. Mapping Agency)). In [ v57 p623 ] making determinations under § 7112(a), the Authority examines the factors presented on a case-by-case basis. Id.

      In determining whether a community of interest has been established, the Authority examines factors such as the agency's mission, organizational and geographic structure, chains of command, working conditions, conditions of employment, and personnel and labor relations policies. See United States Dep't of the Air Force, Air Force Material Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, 47 FLRA 602 (1993); Def. Mapping Agency, 46 FLRA 502. The Authority has not specified individual factors necessary to establish a community of interest and examines the factors presented on a case-by-case basis. See Dep't of Health and Human Serv., Navajo Area Indian Health Serv., Shiprock Serv. Unit, Shiprock, N.M., 49 FLRA 1375, 1383 (1994).

      In accretion cases, the Authority also examines whether employees have been organizationally and operationally integrated. See FISC, 52 FLRA at 963; United States Dep't of Def. Dependents Sch., 48 FLRA 1076, 1085 (1993) (DOD). Determining whether employees are sufficiently integrated is based on, among other things, the degree of interchange between employees, the similarities in positions and duties, and the commonality of administrative and organizational functions, missions and chains of command. See FISC, 52 FLRA at 964-66; DOD, 48 FLRA at 1086-89.

      IFPTE asserts that there is an absence of precedent concerning the RD's determination that the employees in the proposed unit share a community of interest. [n4] Specifically, IFPTE challenges what it views as the RD's singular and novel reliance on the notion that all of VCCO's employees were a part of a virtual office. While the RD did properly consider the level of integration amongst the VCCO offices, she also properly relied on a variety of other factors to find that the employees shared a community of interest, including the centralization of personnel services and managerial authority. RD's Decision at 12-13. The RD's determination that the VCCO employees were operationally and organizationally integrated to the point that a community of interest had developed between them is consistent with the principles set forth above. While IFPTE correctly points out that the Authority has not previously applied these principles to a situation where geographically separated employees work closely together through computer technology, IFPTE has not established that different principles are necessary to decide this issue.

V.      Order

      We deny IFPTE's application for review.



Footnote # 1 for 57 FLRA No. 118

   The unit represented by AFGE consists of:

All nonsupervisory General Schedule and Wage Grade employees who are assigned to the U.S. Army, Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

RD's Decision at 4.


Footnote # 2 for 57 FLRA No. 118

   5 U.S.C. § 7112(a) 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 # 3 for 57 FLRA No. 118

   Section 2422.31(c) of the Authority's Regulations provide, in part:

The Authority may grant an application for review only when the application demonstrates that review is warranted on one or more of the following grounds:
(1)      The decision raises an issue for which there is an absence of precedent.

Footnote # 4 for 57 FLRA No. 118

   IFPTE contests only the RD's determination that the em