DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS DENVER VA MEDICAL CENTER DENVER, COLORADO and LOCAL 2241, 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
DENVER VA MEDICAL CENTER
LOCAL 2241, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
Case No. 01 FSIP 117
DECISION AND ORDER
The Department of Veteran Affairs, Denver VA Medical Center, Denver, Colorado (Employer) and Local 2241, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union), filed a joint request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119.
After investigation of the request for assistance, arising from negotiations over the Employer’s decision to require Facilities Management Service (FMS) employees to wear a new color and style of uniform, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through written submissions from the parties. The parties were informed that, thereafter, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, which may include the issuance of a Decision and Order. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.
The Employer’s mission is to provide eligible beneficiaries with medical and other heath care services, augmented by services to meet the special needs of veterans. The Union represents approximately 500 nonprofessional, mainly Wage Grade employees; 70 employees will be affected by the proposed change. Typical job titles are bio-engineer, housekeeping aide, pipe fitter, and air conditioning mechanic. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was to have expired on May 21, 2001, but continues in effect under a contractual rollover provision until a successor agreement is implemented.
ISSUES AT IMPASSE
The parties disagree over whether housekeepers should be permitted to retain the uniforms they currently wear.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes that housekeepers keep the uniform style and color they are currently wearing; engineering personnel, excluding painters and bio-med personnel, as previously agreed upon by the parties, would be provided new uniforms consisting of burgundy shirts, charcoal pants, and jackets. Housekeepers do not need or want new uniforms, as substantiated by the 13 housekeepers who signed a statement to that effect. They have had "four uniform color changes in the past 14 years" and "are comfortable with the color choice they have at the present time." It is appropriate for engineering employees, however, to have a uniform color that distinguishes them from the housekeepers, so that they can be recognized as craftsman by the general public, patients, and co-workers. If hospital funds are as limited as the Employer states, the money would be better spent on what housekeepers see as a priority, i.e., new safety boots, vacuum cleaners, and buffers. The Employer should work to retain jobs, rather than spend its "limited funds" to purchase new uniforms for housekeepers who do not want or need them. Moreover, if the budget short-fall continues, the Union would prefer that "no one  make any changes other than for garment replacement."
2. The Employer’s Position
The Employer proposes that all WG employees within FMS wear the same color/style uniform; sections within FMS would be distinguished through embroidered lettering above the pocket. The primary goal is to "distinguish the new FMS,  further eliminate the old service barriers that are present, and create a more cohesive work group." This issue was first brought to the Employer’s attention by the Union. Changing uniforms is in accord with employees’ wishes since they expressed their preferences through a vote, with a majority of them voting for burgundy shirts and charcoal pants. In addition, the Medical Center Director "has been given the authority to designate the color/styles within the organization and to approve deviations" under Medical Center policy, #FMS-09, and already has approved the proposed change.(1) The Union did not comment on the Medical Center policy when it had the opportunity to do so.
Based on industry statistics regarding "uniform life," a change "at this time is appropriate and would not be excessively cost prohibitive." In this regard, the average life of a uniform is 125 washings. Funding for replacement uniforms is a "recurring budget item for all services and we have a standard obligation with a uniform supplier for [replacing uniforms]." Furthermore, buying only one style and color of uniform in bulk is less expensive than purchasing two different sets. Over a 10-year period, $13,667 would be saved because of bulk purchases and not needing to maintain two inventories for replacement uniforms.
Preliminarily, to the extent that the Employer is raising a jurisdictional argument that the Union’s proposal is inconsistent with the authority delegated to the Medical Center Director under internal VA regulations to determine the color and style of uniforms, Medical Center Policy #FMS-09 requires that "labor relations responsibilities" must be met before changes in the issuance of uniforms will be made. We construe the parties’ negotiations over this matter as proof that the Employer is meeting its labor relations obligations under the VA’s internal regulations. Furthermore, there is no basis in the VA regulations or otherwise to suggest that the discretion provided to the Medical Center Director over the matter of uniforms is not subject to bargaining. Therefore, we conclude that the Panel has the authority to reach a decision on the merits of the parties’ proposals in this case.
Having reviewed the evidence and arguments presented by the parties on the merits, we conclude that a modified version of the Union’s proposal should be adopted to resolve their impasse. In our view, the Employer has failed to demonstrate a need to change the status quo, whereby housekeepers and workers in the Engineering Department have been wearing different uniforms for an unspecified time period. In this regard, the change it proposes serves no security or other similar purpose. Moreover, its contention that one uniform would create a more cohesive work group appears to be nebulous, particularly in light of the fact that the Employer has agreed to permit painters and bio-med personnel to dress in uniform styles that do not match those in the rest of engineering. Nor is its projection of cost savings in the next 10 years persuasive given the parties’ disagreement over how frequently the housekeeping staff has had to change uniforms over the past 10 years. Our only modification to the Union’s proposal concerns eliminating any reference to engineering personnel being provided with jackets. The record reveals that the issue of jackets was raised by the Union for the first time in its written submission after the Panel asserted jurisdiction over the dispute. Thus, there is no indication that the parties ever negotiated over the matter.