DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE OKLAHOMA RURAL DEVELOPMENT STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA and LOCAL 3354, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

OKLAHOMA RURAL DEVELOPMENT

STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA

and

 

LOCAL 3354, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 00 FSIP 74

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 3354, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119 between it and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Oklahoma Rural Development(RD), Stillwater, Oklahoma (Employer).

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance, which arose during negotiations on an "interim" agreement, the Panel determined that the dispute over Union travel and per diem expenses should be resolved through written submissions from the parties. After considering the entire record, the Panel would take whatever action it deems appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to provide loans, at reasonable rates and terms, to rural residents and communities unable to obtain credit from commercial resources. There are approximately 72 employees in the bargaining unit who work in loan processing, customer service, and clerical positions, at grades ranging from GS-3 through GS-11. The parties bargained over an "interim" agreement after the Union was certified as the exclusive representative of unit employees. The agreement addresses grievances, facilities, dues withholding, official time, and travel and per diem expenses. According to previously agreed upon wording, if a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement has not been completed by December 31, 2000, either party may reopen the "interim" agreement.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over the amount of money the Employer should pay toward the travel and per diem expenses of Union representatives under the "interim" agreement.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1.  The Employer’s Position

     The Employer proposes the following wording:

1) Both parties will contribute to the reasonable costs of Union travel and per diem for representational purposes. Whenever possible and most economical, such travel within Oklahoma shall be by GSA vehicle, or by privately owned vehicle (POV) when no GSA car is available. For its share, the State Office will contribute up to $6,000 for fiscal year 2000. This will cover reasonable travel in connection with proceedings of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (Authority) and the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel). It will also include: costs associated with preparation for and participation in bargaining on a full term contract; costs associated with joint training Partnership and Alternative Dispute Resolution; costs for use of GSA vehicles and mileage for use of privately owned vehicles when GSA cars are unavailable. Within the FY 2000 limit specified above, the State Office will also pay for hotel expenses when a grievance or disciplinary meeting cannot be completed in one day.

For its share, the Union shall pay for the meals and incidental expenses of stewards who travel outside the geographic area of responsibility assigned by the Union to represent employees in grievances and similar matters, e.g., disciplinary replies. The Union will pay all travel associated with Union sponsored training, lobbying activities outside the State of Oklahoma, and any Union decision to voluntarily take on a representational role in third party proceedings other than those before the Authority or the Panel.

2) For future fiscal years, the State Office will request funding from the National Office of an amount equal to that received for FY 2000. If the National Office doesn’t provide the amount requested, the State Office will give the same consideration to Union travel needs as to other travel requirements within the funds actually received, whether by continuing resolution or by full fiscal allotment.

The proposal recognizes that RD travel funds for administering mission-related programs are tight due to the decrease in staffing levels (cuts of 28 percent) while the number of programs administered continues to rise (increases of 69 percent). For future years, by not specifying an amount, the Director of the Oklahoma RD could more easily adjust travel spending levels to make them consistent with overall travel appropriations. Additionally, to keep costs to a minimum, the practice of another union representing employees in the New York RD of using General Services Administration (GSA) cars, and personally-owned vehicle (POV) mileage reimbursement when GSA cars are not available for representational travel, is reflected in the proposal. All things considered, it is important for the Union to "accept fiscal responsibility for those actions which it initiates," such as playing a voluntary role in third-party actions and participation in administrative proceedings other than those before the Panel and the Authority. This is especially true where, as here, the Director of Oklahoma RD "is an allottee under the Anti-Deficiency Act" who is "held accountable for any expenditures over and above the fixed funds received from the national office."

2.  The Union’s Position

The Union proposes the following wording:

The Union will pay travel and per diem expenses when union representatives participate in union sponsored training (see paragraph 7 below).(1) The Agency will pay reasonable travel and per diem expenses for all other representational purposes.

The proposal is comparable to how some other RD and Farm Service Agency (FSA) employers (Oklahoma FSA, Kansas RD, Arkansas RD and FSA, and Texas RD and FSA), and unions representing similarly-situated bargaining units, have dealt with the issue. Thus, it is a well-established practice for employers to pay for reasonable travel and per diem expenses to enable bargaining-unit employees to participate in protected activities. The Employer’s $6,000 proposed cap is based on the approximate actual annual cost of reimbursing the travel and per diem expenses of the Oklahoma FSA bargaining unit during the past 3 years. The Union president was able to get the Deputy Undersecretary for RD to commit to this amount for FY 2000 as a potential resolution of the dispute. Apportioning a low share of travel and per diem expenses to the Union is fair and realistic, given that it represents a relatively new, small bargaining unit which has few dues-paying members. The 72 bargaining-unit employees are spread among 16 different offices, making travel a necessity. Since Federal unions are barred from having "union shops," it is appropriate for the Employer to help pay costs of representing non-dues-paying members. Finally, because of the overall size of the budget appropriation for RD in FY 2000 ($533 million), inability to pay is not a valid justification for its proposing to limit travel and per diem funding.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments presented, we shall order that the impasse be resolved on the basis of a compromise solution. Under its terms, the Employer would cover up to $6,000 of the Union’s travel and per diem expenses related to representational activities in FY 2000, and up to $6,000 in FY 2001. Within Oklahoma, travel would be by GSA vehicle when available, or by reimbursement of mileage expenses when a POV is used. In our view, the compromise provides a better resolution to the dispute than proposed by either party. By limiting the duration of such payments to the end of FY 2001, the parties have an incentive to expedite their negotiations over a comprehensive agreement. Regarding the $6,000 cap, this is an amount the Employer proposed and that the parties view as reasonable. In addition, requiring the use of a GSA vehicle, when available, or reimbursement of POV mileage, is prudent and appears to be consistent with similar practices in other USDA offices. Finally, our approach appropriately places the responsibility for determining which representational activities are eligible for travel and per diem payments on the parties.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under the Panel’s regulations, 5 C.F.R.  § 2471.6(a)(2) the Federal Service Impasses Panel under § 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following:

    The parties shall adopt the following wording to resolve their dispute:

(1) The Employer shall pay Union travel and per diem for representatio