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
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.
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.
Having carefully considered the arguments and evide