DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEFENSE COMMISSARY AGENCY FORT BLISS, HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, AND WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE COMMISSARIES PETERSON AFB, COLORADO and LOCAL R14-23, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
DEFENSE COMMISSARY AGENCY
FORT BLISS, HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE
  BASE, AND WHITE SANDS MISSILE
  RANGE COMMISSARIES
PETERSON AFB, COLORADO

and

LOCAL R14-23, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU,
AFL-CIO

Case No. 02 FSIP 35

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local R14-23, 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 Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Defense, Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), Fort Bliss, Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), and White Sands Missile Range Commissaries, Peterson AFB, Colorado (Employer).

        Following investigation of the Union’s request for assistance in the case, which arose from negotiations over a reduction in force (RIF), the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference with Panel Member Joseph C. Whitaker. The parties were advised that if no settlement was reached, Member Whitaker would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, Member Whitaker met with the parties on July 9 and 10, 2002, at Fort Bliss, Texas. During the procedure, the parties were unable to resolve voluntarily only 1 of the 28 separate issues originally contained in the request for assistance. The parties subsequently were permitted to submit brief statements in support of the final offers they provided at the conclusion of the informal conference on the matter that remained at impasse. Member Whitaker has reported to the Panel and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is responsible for providing an efficient and effective worldwide system of commissaries for selling groceries and household supplies at low, practical prices to members of the military service, their families, and other authorized patrons. As it concerns this dispute, the Employer operates three commissaries located at Fort Bliss, Texas; White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico; and Holloman AFB, New Mexico.(1) Local R14-23 represents approximately 225 bargaining-unit employees who work at the three locations in such positions as sales store checker, sales store worker, accounting technician, quality assurance evaluator, and meat cutter.(2) At the National level, the parties executed a master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) in March 1996 that was to have expired in March 1999. Since that time, it has been renewed for 1-year periods. The parties have a local supplemental agreement, which runs concurrently with the MCBA.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties essentially disagree over whether the Employer should be required to take certain actions designed to protect the jobs of more senior bargaining-unit employees before RIF notices are issued.

 

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1.  The Union’s Position

         The Union proposes the following wording:

At least 10 days prior to issuance of RIF notices bargaining unit employees with the lowest retention standing for their competitive level in the bargaining unit will be reassigned to the bargaining unit location resulting in the most severe RIF actions, reassigning higher retention standing employees to other unit locations that will be least affected by the RIF. Once the RIF is completed, any "displaced" employee will be given an opportunity to transfer back to their original store, by retention standing, as vacancies become available.

Under the proposal, more unit employees with higher retention standing would be protected from separation or other adverse consequences of the RIF, and employees with lower retention standing would suffer "the most severe adverse actions (separation, downgrade, and/or change from full-time to part-time employment)." Without its adoption, the Employer’s determination, pursuant to 5 C.F.R. § 351.402, that each commissary constitutes a separate competitive area, will adversely affect more senior employees, who overall have higher retention standings, by precluding them from competing within the same competitive level against more junior employees working at other stores, who have lower retention standings. Because the 16 employees at White Sands Missile Range may only compete for the limited positions at their store, the senior-most employees there will lose their jobs or suffer downgrades, while many employees with much less seniority working at the Fort Bliss and Holloman AFB commissaries will be unaffected by the RIF. Employees with over 20 years "of faithful and dedicated service to the Government should have some meaning and value to the Government" and "should not be discarded into a non-existent job market."

    The Employer’s determination that each of the commissaries should have its own competitive area is at odds with arguments it made before the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) when the FLRA was evaluating the appropriateness of units within DeCA. In this regard, it claimed before the FLRA that it was willing to have competitive areas for RIF purposes encompass more than one store when all affected commissaries in a pre-existing bargaining unit are in the same local commuting area. Consequently, NAGE Local R14-23 was certified as the bargaining unit for all three commissaries at issue.

2.  The Employer’s Position

    The Union should be ordered to withdraw its proposal. The proposal essentially would require the Employer to conduct three "mock" RIFs to determine: (1) "where the most severe RIF actions would occur" and (2) the retention standing of employees in each competitive level relative to employees in those positions at other commissaries. It also requires the Employer to "ignore" the established competitive areas, "combine all three locations into one retention register," and run another mock RIF. To accomplish this, the agency would have to review the Official Personnel Folders (OPFs) of each employee at each commissary "because the abolishment [of positions] are different at each location." Processing the various personnel actions required by the Union proposal would be burdensome and costly. Furthermore, permanent change of station expenses may also be incurred should employees have to travel more than 50 miles from the former permanent duty stations to the new permanent duty stations. Only after completing all of the reassignments required by the Union proposal would the Employer be able to conduct the RIF. Finally, management would have to maintain a separate list of management-directed reassignments to afford affected employees the opportunity to transfer back to their original store as vacancies become available for an unspecified length of time.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties on this issue, we shall order the Union to withdraw its proposal. In our view, the administrative burden that would be imposed upon the Employer by the Union’s proposal outweighs the benefit it would provide to what is likely to be a small number of more senior employees. To implement the RIF under the Union’s approach, among other things, the Employer would be required to determine the retention standing of all employees at the three commissaries relative to employees at the remaining two stores, which it would not otherwise have to compute, and process reassignments of more junior employees from their current workplace to the commissary where the severest impact would occur. Moreover, the reassignments could result in permanent change of station expenses for some employees, while others may be forced to relocate only to be separated from service a short time later. We are persuaded that such an onerous procedure, the brunt of which would be borne by the most junior employees, adds unnecessary costs and delay to the agency’s plan, and would undermine the purpose of the RIF.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Fe