ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ATHENS, GEORGIA and LOCAL R5-60, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

ATHENS, GEORGIA

and

LOCAL R5-60, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU,

AFL-CIO

Case No. 01 FSIP 143

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local R5-60, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, 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 Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Environmental Protection Agency, Athens, Georgia (EPA or Employer).

    Following an investigation of the dispute concerning designating an Office Annex (OA) common room, which arose from an office relocation, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through the issuance of an Order to Show Cause.(1) The investigation revealed that this wording had been developed by the parties locally and forwarded to the Director of the Ecosystems Research Division (ERD) for her review.

    The parties were informed that, after considering the entire record, the Panel would take whatever action it deems appropriate to resolve the impasse, which could include the issuance of a binding decision. The parties submitted final offers and written statements of position pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment upon which life depends. The Union represents approximately 67 employees, 10 of whom are affected by this change. Employees work in the ERD as scientists, engineers, office managers, and in various administrative staff positions at grades GS-5 through -16. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to expire February 7, 2002.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether to: (1) designate OA-6 or, as an alternative, rooms OA-02 and OA-04,(2) as an OA multipurpose room (Union); or (2) designate OA-2 and OA-4 primarily for conference room use, and relocate certain "break room" equipment (Employer).

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

   The Union submits the following alternative proposals:

(a) Office Annex Room (OA) #6 (or other office space mutually agreeable) will become and remain the OA Common Room.

OR

(b) OA-2 and OA-4 will be designated and remain the multi-purpose room for Annex Office employees. As a multi-purpose room, it will serve as common/break room, as well as conference facilities* for Office Annex Personnel.

*Conferences should be scheduled to cause the least disruption, i.e., conferences, whenever possible, should not be scheduled during or near lunch breaks (11-1), and should not exceed 1 and 1½ hours duration. If these two criteria cannot be met, the conference should[,] if at all possible, relocate to one of the other facilities available.

To remove common room amenities from OA-2 and OA-4, as the Employer proposes, without providing alternative common room space would adversely impact OA employees. Therefore, the current range of uses of the OA conference room, where meetings are not held for a majority of the time, should be maintained. With regard to proposal (a), two employees have recently left the agency, freeing up the office space in the rooms OA-6 and OA-18. It would be less disruptive to relocate a GS-12 employee, who is scheduled to move to room OA-6, to room OA-18 instead, thereby leaving OA-6 open for "immediate conversion" as the OA break/common room.

    As an alternative, the Panel should consider maintaining the status quo as indicated in proposal (b), where rooms OA-2 and OA-4 would remain the multi-purpose room for OA employees. The Employer fails to demonstrate the need to restrict the use of the OA multipurpose room to that of a conference room. As an example, during the month of September, OA-02 and OA-04 were reserved only twice for a total of 4.5 hours. Five other conference spaces at the ERD main facility are also frequently available since they are occupied less than 10 percent of the workday. If a meeting involves a large number of participants, the Environmental Information Annex conference room, which was created for this purpose, is available. Finally, if additional conference space is needed, the conference room designated for Facilities may be used.

2. The Employer’s Position

    In arguing against the imposition of the wording of the Panel’s Order to Show Cause, the Employer instead proposes, in essence, to (1) move "break room" items and office equipment (e.g., copier) to the Bonsai Room or move some of the items to the Bonsai Room, with the remainder to be located in the Office Automation Assistant’s area, consistent with the placement of similar items in the other Office Automation Assistants’ offices; and (2) use OA-02 and OA-04 as a meeting/conference room for affected employees, including resident managers and employees, where all can bring their coffee and discuss professional matters; employees would also be permitted to eat their lunches in this space.

    There is not enough space in OA for a common/break room because of an increasing demand for offices. In this regard, the ERD is in the process of filling 10 scientific and professional positions. Furthermore, three visiting scientists will require office space at the facility for 6 months to 1 year. It is important that ERD locate the new hires and visiting scientists near their colleagues, with access to equipment. An evaluation of the existing office space reveals that only 5 offices will be available in ERD for these 13 new employees. Even if the 3 visiting scientists share a single office, only 4 offices will be left for the remaining 10 new employees, requiring some employees to double up. In addition, an information technology contractor for ERD is located in the main building; the offices for those 23 contract employees are located in 2,283 square feet of space, "which is much less per employee than for Federal employees located throughout ERD."

    With the exception of the Snack Bar located in the Main Building, no ERD room has been set aside specifically as a common/break room. The Snack Bar has tables which can seat up to 45 employees for lunch or impromptu brown bag meetings. The Snack Bar is actually closer to affected OA employees than to some of the scientists at the Main Building. For example, the distance from the outer door of the OA to the Snack Bar is approximately 174 feet, while the distance for the scientist in the Main Building seated farthest from the Snack Bar is 354 feet. Moreover, in previous decisions, the Panel has "found for the [e]mployer in similar related issues."(3) As to the Union’s contention that conference rooms are underutilized, sign-up sheets are misleading because they do not take into account ad hoc users. In summary, space is at a premium in the ERD. To dedicate a common room for OA employees "would result in the inability of ERD management to establish a productive and equitable environment for, not only current employees, but new and visiting employees" who will require office space.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having reviewed the evidence and arguments presented by the parties on the merits of this issue, we are persuaded that Union alternative proposal (b) should be adopted to resolve their dispute. In our view, none of the other approaches suggested in this case -- the wording in the Order to Show Cause, Union proposal (a), or the Employer’s proposal -- gets to the heart of the matter. All of them involve changing the current practice in circumstances where there is little evidence in the record to justify the Employer’s initial decision to eliminate the use of OA-02 and OA-04 as a multipurpose room. In this regard, the Employer’s main argument for converting OA-02 and OA-04 primarily to a meeting/conference room is the lack of office space in the ERD, but it is not apparent to us how adopting its proposal would ease overcrowding.(4) While it presents other arguments in support of its position, taken together they fail to demonstrate the need to change the status quo. Union alternative (b), including its limitations on the scheduling of conferences in rooms OA-2 and OA-4, more faithfully maintains the current practice. Accordingly, we shall order its adoption.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations 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 5 C.F.R. § 2471.11(a) of its regulations, hereby orders adoption of the following:

    The parties shall adopt Union alternative proposal (b).

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky

Executive Director

November 2, 2001

Washington, D.C.

1.In this regard, the Panel directed the parties to show cause why it should not impose the following wording to resolve their dispute:

(1) The next vacated Office Annex (OA) office will become and remain the OA common room; and (2) This agreement remains in effect until superceded by a negotiated agreement. Nothing will be altered without first negotiating such changes with the original parties involved.
The investigation revealed that this wording had been developed by the parties locally and forwarded to the Director of the Ecosystems Research Division (ERD) for her review.

2.Rooms OA-02 and OA-04 currently function as a common/break/multi-purpose room in the OA.

3.In support of t