DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA MEDICAL CENTER ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA and LOCAL 446, 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
VA MEDICAL CENTER
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

 

 

and

LOCAL 446, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
  GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 02 FSIP 50

DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Medical Center, Asheville, North Carolina (Employer) and Local 446, 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 Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119.

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

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, the Panel Member met with the parties on July 18, 2002, at the VA Medical Clinic in Asheville, North Carolina. At the conclusion of the informal conference, the Employer agreed to explore whether it would be practicable to offer the Union office space which is currently occupied by the Nursing Education offices. A follow-up conference call with the parties was conducted on September 19, 2002. During the call, the Panel was informed that the Employer was unable to provide the Union the office space in Nursing Education. The parties subsequently were permitted to submit their final offers and brief supporting statements. The Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to provide eligible veterans and their dependents with medical and other health related services to meet the special needs of veterans. The Union represents approximately 993 employees who work as non-supervisory doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, pharmacists, social workers, and in various support staff positions, at grades GS-3 through -11 and WG-1 through -11. The master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) expired in March 2000, but the agreement remains in effect under a contractual rollover provision.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over the amount and location of Union office space.

1.  The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes to provide the Union with approximately 148 square feet of additional office space once Room 106, in Building 14, is vacated. In order to accomplish this, the Employer would install a wall down the middle of the room: One-half of the office would be given to the Union; the other half of the office would be occupied by a personnel specialist. This would increase the Union’s office space allotment to 715 square feet. In addition, soundproofing would be installed in the newly-constructed wall and the existing wall between the Union’s office and the adjacent training room. Employees waiting to see the Union would have access to an alcove outside of the Union office or the nearby vending/break room. Furnishings, décor, and equipment for the new office space, would be provided in accordance with Article 48, § 1 of the MCBA. Similarly, conference room space for the Union’s use would be provided, as available, in accordance with Article 48, § 2;(1) such space is reserved electronically.

    The effort to relocate the Union’s office to space now occupied by Nursing Education in the basement of Building 47 was "contingent upon further space analysis and Nursing Service’s input on the consequences of the move." That effort was unsuccessful because the Acting Nurse Executive revealed that exchanging the two offices would have a "negative impact" on the VA Medical Center’s existing nursing school affiliations. Specifically, moving the Nursing Education space into a non-patient building would, among other things, separate the instructors from the students which in turn would diminish their teaching effectiveness; reduce the overall space of Nursing Education by 205 square feet, or more; and extend the distance between the nurses’ duty stations and training. More importantly, increasing the distance between Nursing Education and the nurses’ duty stations would create unfavorable working conditions which have a negative impact on recruitment efforts needed to alleviate the shortage of nursing staff.

    Considering the amount of space the Union currently occupies, the space criteria outlined in VA Handbook 7610, and existing provisions in Article 48 of the parties’ MCBA and the local supplement, the Union has sufficient space and equipment to meet its needs. "In an act of good faith," however, an additional 128 square feet is offered to be used as Union office space. The Employer cannot offer more space "without compromising [its] core directive for patient care."

2.  The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes to move its office from Building 14 into space currently occupied by Nursing Education in the basement of Building 47. The proposed space consists of six offices covering a total of 1,296 square feet.(2) The Union also would be provided with conference room space in rooms AB 27 and AB 28, adjacent to the proposed office space, adding another 1,296 square feet. Space of this size, located in the main hospital building where the majority of bargaining-unit members work, and décor commensurate with the chief executive of the facility, is appropriate in the Union’s view, as it is the exclusive representative for all professionals, nonprofessionals, and the nursing unit. In addition to its representational duties, Union representatives "serve as counselors (credit, marriage, etc.)." By contrast, the Employer’s final offer, giving the Union an additional 148 square feet in Building 14, is unacceptable because it provides "no privacy for employees, union officials, and management officials," as Human Resources division is located across the hallway. Nor does the Employer’s offer provide sufficient space for private meetings between employees and stewards or Union training, or cure the problem of inadequate storage space for files that the Union is required by law to keep for 5 years. For these reasons, the Panel should order the Employer to provide meeting space in Building 47 that the parties inspected during the informal conference or, if that location is unavailable, other comparable office space.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that the impasse should be resolved by adopting the Employer’s proposal, modified to permit either side to reopen negotiations over Union office space no sooner than 1 year from the date of this decision. In our view, the Employer has articulated valid, mission-related reasons for not exchanging the Union’s current office space with that of Nursing Education. If the measures the Employer is proposing, however, such as soundproofing and the additional 148 square feet of office space, do not sufficiently address the Union’s concerns regarding privacy and storage space, the reopener provides the parties with a mechanism for bargaining over other alternatives to solve these problems. Moreover, the Employer has failed to identify when room 106 will be vacated and soundproofed for use by the Union. The Union will not be required to wait an inappropriate period of time for this to occur without the ability to reopen bargaining and, if necessary, return to the Panel for assistance. In this regard, as ongoing construction nears completion, the parties may be able to agree to a more satisfactory Union office location. With respect to furnishings, décor, and conference room space, if the Union believes that the Employer is not meeting its contractual obligations in such areas, its concerns should be raised through the negotiated grievance procedure.

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 pursuant to the Panel’s regulations, 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6(a)(2), the Federal Service Impasses Panel, under § 2471.11(a) of its regulations, hereby orders the following:

    The parties shall adopt the Employer’s proposal, modified so that either party may reopen negotiations over Union office space no sooner than 1 year from the date of this decision.

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky
Executive Director

November 8, 2002
Washington, D.C.

1. Article 48, Use of Official Facilities, §§ 1 and 2 state the following: 

Section 1 - Local Union Office Space

A. Management recognizes the importance and value of the Union’s mission and purpose. Accordingly, Management agrees to furnish office space to the Union appropriate for carrying out its representational and partnership duties in locations easily accessible