DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE MINOT AIR FORCE BASE MINOT AFB, NORTH DAKOTA and LOCAL 4046, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE

MINOT AFB, NORTH DAKOTA

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 01 FSIP 111

and

LOCAL 4046, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

ARBITRATOR'S OPINION AND DECISION

    Local 4046, 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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Air Force, Minot Air Force Base, Minot AFB, North Dakota (Employer). After investigating the request for assistance, which concerns the Employer's decision to consolidate the Technical Order (T.O.) Library and remove "excess" furniture from the Summer Rebuild Shop area, both in Building 425, the Panel directed the parties to submit the matter to the undersigned for mediation-arbitration by telephone. Accordingly, on June 20, 2001, attempts were made to mediate the dispute during a conference call with the parties. When those efforts failed to result in a settlement, a brief hearing was conducted during which the parties presented their final offers and discussed supporting evidence and arguments. At that time, the parties were given the opportunity to submit post-hearing briefs on the issue at impasse, but declined to do so. In reaching this decision, I have considered the entire record, as developed by the parties, including a series of photographs of the workplace.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer houses two commands at its facility that perform separate missions: The Bomber Wing flies B-52 bombers and the Space Wing maintains land-based missiles. The Union represents 346 bargaining-unit employees who work in a variety of positions including mechanic, grounds keeper, hospital worker, missile technician, and plumber at grades WG-2 through -11 and GS-1 and 2 through -11. According the Union, 12 bargaining-unit and 20 military employees work in Building 425, a large industrial-style structure housing the Special Purpose Vehicle Repair, where heavy mobile equipment is overhauled and repaired.(1) The parties’ collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) expired on May 15, 2000, but it remains in effect while bargaining is ongoing over a successor agreement.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties essentially disagree over whether the furniture and equipment currently in the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area should be moved to the "new" break room, or civilian employees should be provided with a break room in a portion of the former Machine Shop.(2)

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    The Union's final offer is as follows:

The left half or the east half of the current Machine Shop which measures 29' by 34' as a break-room for members of the Bargaining Unit.

Any construction of necessary walls will be accomplished as a self-help project to keep costs of the project minimal. This would give an area of 29' by 17' for both management and members of the Bargaining Unit.

The Union contends that the Employer should provide bargaining-unit employees with a break room that is separate from the one used by military employees, and that is convenient to the work area. Although military employees would not be explicitly excluded from such a break room, the parties’ practice for a number of years has been to afford separate break room space to civilian employees. Break room 2 was established as a civilian break room approximately 15 years ago, and served that purpose until last Winter when the Employer opened the "new" break room on the east, or far right end, of the building. In addition, employees have used a small section of the Summer Rebuild Shop for breaks, meals, and meal preparation at least since 1998. Evidence of this appears in an October 1, 1998, memorandum from T.Sgt. Thomas D. Lytle to the Union. In the memorandum, T.Sgt. Lytle states: "Even though this would eliminate the break room in this section, we have a break area located in the immediate vicinity in summer rebuild."

    The new break room is a football field’s distance from the Heavy Equipment Shop and at least 60 feet from the Summer Rebuild Shop. Very few, if any, civilian employees use the new break room because the mainly young military employees who frequent that room are "noisy" and "rowdy." The noise level is so intense that a "roar cannot be heard." While the Employer speaks of "team Minot," in reality the two groups do not mix well, and for the most part, prefer to take their breaks and lunches separately. The one exception is two younger civilian employees who have, on occasion, used the new break room. Furthermore, civilians are treated differently from the military. For example, the military are granted productivity off days, but bargaining-unit employees work on those days. They should not, therefore, be made to share the same break room.

    With respect to locating the break room in the former Machine Shop, that space has the advantage of being close to the work area, and would permit employees to go outside to smoke. Even with the addition of the break room, the rest of the space making up the former Machine Shop would still be sufficient for the military employees to change their clothing.

2. The Employer's Position

    The Employer’s proposal reads:

1. The technical orders remaining in Mr. Miller’s area will be consolidated into the main T.O. Library.

2. The table and chairs outside the summer rebuild office area will remain status quo until receipt of the final FLRA decision.(3) At that time, appropriate action will take place commensurate with that decision.

Essentially, the Employer believes that it previously satisfied all bargaining obligations concerning break area 2 and the Machine Shop space. During impact-and-implementation bargaining over the closure of the Machine Shop, the parties agreed to the placement of a changing/dressing and locker room for military employees, and a secured tools area, in this location. The removal of the tables and chairs from the Summer Rebuild Shop, where Mr. Miller, who is retiring at the end of June, and possibly a few other bargaining-unit employees take their breaks and lunch, is intended to increase, to the maximum extent possible, the available work and parts and tools storage areas in the Summer Rebuild Shop. In addition, the closure eliminates the unsafe and unsanitary practices of preparing (employees cook soups and stews) and eating meals in open sections of the shop floor. Such practices are only tolerated in other buildings at Minot AFB when those buildings lack options for break areas. Moreover, requiring all employees to use a single break room, which is modern, clean, and comfortable, makes more sense that building a separate break room for the small number of civilian employees.

    Although there may be "a grain of truth" in some of the Union’s complaints concerning the new break area, the temperature is comfortable, and the noise of the air-handling system is going to be addressed. As to smells that sometimes occur, they dissipate when sewer vents are unclogged. Overall, the new break room is a superior space. It is separated from the work area, as required by the parties’ CBA, and available to both civilian and military employees. Furthermore, placing the two groups in the same space has the advantage of helping to overcome the "natural separation" that occurs between them, and may ultimately lead to their developing "a more cohesive relationship." Finally, plans are to be developed shortly for a second phase of construction which will double the size of the new break room. The expansion space is essentially just around the corner from the new break room.

CONCLUSION

    Having carefully considered the arguments and evidence presented by the parties in this case, I conclude that they should adopt a compromise solution to resolve their dispute. Under the terms of the compromise, the parties are to maintain the status quo regarding the use of the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area, except as modified herein, until the "second phase" of construction of the new break room is completed and the area is available for the use of bargaining-unit employees; access to that space should be by a separate entrance and not involve employees’ passing through the military break room. Then, the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area is to be closed and unit employees shall have use of the newest section of the "new" break room.(4) The status quo is modified to prohibit the cooking of food in the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area, but employees may reheat and eat food there during the interim period while the civilian employees’ future break room is under construction.

    Preliminarily, I find the record clearly establishes that civilian employees have been granted a separate break room for a long period, possibly 15 years, or more. I am persuaded that the Union has justified continuing this practice at some location in Building 425 because of the objectionable conditions ("noisy and rowdy" behavior) prevailing in the new break room, which neither party denies. The Employer’s consistent characterization of the dispute as concerning a library consolidation and the elimination of excess furniture is, in my view, disingenuous, given that the furniture the Employer seeks to jettison is part and parcel of the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area used by civilian employees since 1998, if not longer. If the Employer’s proposal were adopted, the last separate civilian break area in this building would be closed.

    While I believe that the Union’s proposal to construct a break room in the former Machine Shop would otherwise be a desirable outcome in this case, I am unable to order adoption of that proposal because the Machine Shop space is subject to a recent agreement between the parties to use it for other purposes. As to the idea of a single break room, were it not for the unacceptable conditions in the new break room, I would find persuasive the Employer’s position that having one break room for all employees, military and civilian alike, has economic merit, and might help these groups develop a more cohesive relationship. Given the conditions in the new break room, however, I conclude that it is advisable to maintain the practice of a separate break room for bargaining-unit employees. Until the Employer is able to complete the second, newer section of the new break room, bargaining-unit employees are to be permitted use of the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area on the modified basis described above; during the mediation-arbitration procedure, the Union expressed a willingness to agree to using the area with the restriction on food preparation. Even though the bargaining-unit break room will not be as close to the work area as previous break areas, I believe that the need to devote as much space as possible to vehicle repair must take precedence over dedicating some of the space for break purposes. As to the restrictions on cooking in the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area, I find that the proximity of noxious materials on the shop floor make cooking an inappropriate activity in those areas.

DECISION

    The parties shall adopt the following compromise provision to resolve their dispute.

    A separate break room for bargaining-unit employees shall be established in the space reserved by the Employer for expanding the new break area. It shall have a separate entrance so that civilian employees may gain access without walking through the current "new" break room. The Employer and the Union will meet to determine jointly the amenities that will be made available in the break room for bargaining-unit employees. In the interim period, until construction is complete, bargaining-unit employees will continue to use the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area; employees will be permitted to reheat and eat their food in that area, but will not be permitted to cook meals there.

Ellen J. Kolansky

Arbitrator

July 18, 2001

Washington, D.C.

 

1.Building 425 has three main segments. On the left side are a number of repair bays known collectively as the Heavy Equipment Shop. The T.O. Library is located along the left wall of this shop, occupying the “old” civilian break room, formerly known as break room 2. In the center is a second set of repair bays known as the Summer Rebuild Shop. A break area used by some civilian employees, and known as the Summer Rebuild Shop Break Area, is located near one corner of this shop. On the right half of the building are a number of offices, conference, and storage rooms, and on the far right, the “new” break room that is open to military and civilian employees.

2.The parties do not disagree over the Employer’s plan to consolidate into a central library technical orders addressing vehicle repair and parts. The Employer has implemented most of this part of its plan by shelving these materials in former break room 2. The Union had filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the Employer, essentially contending that the Employer implemented the closing of break room 2 (now the T.O. Library) without fulfilling its bargaining obligation. The Director of the Chicago Regional Office of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) determined not to issue a complaint in the ULP because he found that the Union had not submitted timely proposals regarding the proposed closing of break room 2.

3.The Employer refers to the Union’s appeal of the Chicago Regional Office’s decision not to issue a complaint regarding the ULP charge over the closing of break room 2. On July 3, 2001, the Office of the General Counsel of the FLRA denied the Union’s appeal of the Chicago Regional Office’s refusal to issue a complaint, and closed the case.

4.In discussing the use of the future civilian break room, I have avoided indicating that the space is for the “exclusive” use of civilian employees to reflect the appar