DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HARRY S. TRUMAN VA MEDICAL CENTER COLUMBIA, MISSOURI and LOCAL 903 AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
HARRY S. TRUMAN VA MEDICAL CENTER
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
Case No. 01 FSIP 7
DECISION AND ORDER
Local 903, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), 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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Harry S. Truman VA Medical Center, Columbia, Missouri (Employer).
Following an investigation of the request for assistance, which involved negotiations over official time for the Union’s officers and stewards, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference by telephone with Executive Director H. Joseph Schimansky for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issues.(1) The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mr. Schimansky would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his recommendations for resolving the issues. After considering the report, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.
Pursuant to the Panel’s determination, Mr. Schimansky conducted the informal telephone conference on January 25 and 26, 2001. The parties were able to resolve a number of official time issues, but failed to reach a complete voluntary settlement of their dispute. The parties each submitted their final offers and brief supporting statements on the two remaining issues. Mr. Schimansky has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.
The Employer’s mission is to provide hospital, nursing home, domiciliary care, and outpatient medical and dental care to eligible veterans of military service in the Armed Forces. The Union represents approximately 200 professional employees who occupy such positions as physician, registered nurse, psychologist, pharmacist, librarian, social worker, and audiologist. The parties’ master collective bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire in March 2001.
ISSUES AT IMPASSE
The parties disagree over: (1) the amount of pre-approved official time the Union president should receive per week; and (2) whether the Union president should be permitted to assign such time to other individuals when he is unavailable.
1. Official Time for the Union President
a. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes that the president of Local 903 receive 28 hours of official time per week. The current allotment of 16 hours per week is "inadequate." The Union’s position is supported by an abstracted and sanitized log "from December 2000 forward" which identifies the number of hours used on such Union matters as workers’ compensation, equal employment opportunity, bargaining, unfair labor practice [ULP] charges, and representation "including hospital meetings." It also establishes that some of the hours used were on weekends, days off, annual leave, and holidays. The need for more official time is also supported by "a partial list of all the additional hours that were routinely and completely refused" by management, including a request for additional time to prepare more documents for the Panel proceeding. Such action "implies an element of bad faith" and an attempt to block the Union’s "full hearing rights" before the Panel. Finally, an increase in official time is justified by Union responsibilities arising in connection with the creation of the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), which requires local union presidents to respond frequently to a variety of policies, procedures, and activities.
b. The Employer’s Position
The Employer proposes that the Union president be allocated 20 hours of official time per week. This represents a net increase of 4 hours per week over the official time he has been receiving since 1997. When combined with the additional 4 hours of official time per week agreed to during these negotiations for various other AFGE Local 903 officers, the amount "should be sufficient for [the Union president] to appropriately fulfill his representational and related requirements." In this regard, "the record reflects that the activity by the Local with regard to ULPs, grievances filed and other third-party representational activities does not represent any significant increase in representational requirements." Nor has the Union substantiated its allegations that it is difficult for its representatives to receive the proper time to perform their responsibilities. It should also be noted that the parties have negotiated a provision permitting the Union to request "additional official time when there is a legitimate need."
Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s proposal to resolve the dispute. In our view, its offer to increase the Union president’s official time from 16 to 20 hours per week is reasonable, particularly given the lack of objective evidence that representational activity at the facility has risen appreciably from 1997 levels. It also appears that the overall amount of official time authorized for the Union’s use is comparable to what other union locals in the same VISN (Network 15) are receiving. As to the reasons the Union provides to support its proposal, we find that the Employer’s denials of the president’s requests for additional time are consistent with its position that his current allotment is sufficient to perform his representational duties. Moreover, the record does not substantiate the Union’s allegation that the Employer routinely denies requests by other Union officials to use the official time they are entitled to under the parties’ 1997 agreement. We note in this regard that the lack of objective evidence to justify the increase the Union proposes may be rectified by the parties’ recent decision jointly to establish a system to track the use of official time.
2. Assignment of Unused Official Time
a. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes that the president be permitted "to assign his official time to other individuals when he is unavailable." In its view, the proposal speaks for itself. In this regard, "it seems an incredulous leap of logic to think" that an acting president should not be permitted such hours "as the normal manner and method of doing business." What the Union is proposing is no different than the Medical Center Director assigning an acting director in this absence, or a commanding officer in the military naming an acting commander. When the president is unavailable "the responsibilities of the Local continue to exist," and it is "imperative" that someone be permitted to function in the president’s stead. Currently, the "Local shuts down because no one is allowed to carry on." In addition to ensuring the "continued availability of the Local officers with management," adoption of its proposal would also guarantee that there is "consistency with the representational functions of the Local."
b. The Employer’s Position
The Employer would have the Panel order that the parties’ current practice, whereby the Union president is not entitled to assign his unused official time to others, be maintained. The Union’s proposal "would appear to a reasonable person to be a problem waiting to happen if it is adopted." This is because almost all of the current Union officers are in professional clinical positions "with schedules and work assignments that are established in advance." Permitting the Union president to allocate his official time to others when he is unavailable "would be disruptive to the work assignments and possibly the patient care schedule of the individual designated to serve as Acting president." It could also lead to potential problems and conflicts between the parties. Moreover, there is a far less disruptive way to provide a designated acting president with more time than the officer is otherwise entitled to receive. In this connection, the Union should request additional official time from the officer’s Service Line Director, in accordance with a provision upon which the parties have already agreed.
After thoroughly considering the record established by the parties regarding this issue, we are persuaded that their impasse should be resolved on the basis of compromise wording permitting the Union president to assign his official time to other duly-designated officials when 48 hours of advance notice is provided to management. Our modifications to the Union’s proposal address the Employer’s legitimate concerns that patient care not be unduly disrupted, and that the provision not become the cause of future disputes between the parties. The compromise also meets the Union’s interest in maximizing the use of its official time entitlements to perform representational activities when the Union president is unavailable. Accordingly, we shall order its adoption.