DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS CENTRAL IOWA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM KNOXVILLE DIVISION KNOXVILLE, IOWA and LOCAL 1226, 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
CENTRAL IOWA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
KNOXVILLE DIVISION
KNOXVILLE, IOWA

and

LOCAL 1226, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 03 FSIP 52


DECISION AND ORDER

   Local 1226, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union), filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) pursuant to the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982 (Act), 5 U.S.C. § 6120 et seq., to resolve an impasse arising from a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Central Iowa Health Care System, Knoxville Division, Knoxville, Iowa (Employer), to terminate a 4/10 compressed work schedule (CWS) for certain employees in Engineering Services at the Employer’s Knoxville, Iowa, facility.(1)

   Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through an informal conference by telephone with Panel Member Grace Flores-Hughes. The parties were informed that if no settlement was reached during the informal conference, Member Flores-Hughes would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute. The notification would include, among other things, her recommendation for resolving the matter. After considering this information, the Panel would take final action in accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 6131 and 5 C.F.R. § 2472.11 of its regulations. The parties were also directed to submit statements of position, prior to the informal conference, with supporting evidence and argument on the following issue:

Whether the finding on which the Employer has based its determination to terminate a compressed work schedule is supported by evidence that the schedule has caused an adverse agency impact.(2)

Accordingly, statements of position were submitted, and an informal conference by telephone was conducted by Member Flores-Hughes on February 26, 2003, but a settlement of the dispute was not reached. The Panel has now considered the entire record, including the parties’ pre- and post-conference written submissions, and Member Flores-Hughes’ recommendation for resolving the dispute.

BACKGROUND

   The Employer’s mission is to provide in-patient and out-patient services and care to veterans in central Iowa. There are two divisions, Des Moines and Knoxville, in the Central Iowa Health Care System.(3) The Union represents 599 bargaining-unit employees who work in such positions as engineer, plumber, physician, psychologist, electrician and firefighter (at GS-3 through -14 and WG-2 through -12). The termination of CWS in this case would directly affect 14 employees who work in 8 of the 14 shops/units in Engineering Services. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was to have expired in 1997; since that time, it has been renewed for 2-year periods, and is now due to expire in August 2003.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

   The issue before the Panel is whether the finding on which the Employer has based its determination to terminate the 4/10 CWS in Engineering Services is supported by evidence that the schedule is causing an adverse agency impact.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Panel should find that the evidence on which the Employer bases its determination to terminate the 4/10 CWS establishes that the schedule is causing an adverse agency impact as defined under the Act. The "main issue" leading to the Employer’s determination is that "over the last 10 years staffing levels in various Engineering disciplines have been reduced to the point that it is no longer possible to maintain adequate coverage during the normal administrative workweek (7:45 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday)." In the Machine, Bio-Med, Air Conditioning, and Pipefitting Shops, where the adverse impact of the CWS is most severe, the total complement of unit employees has gone from 18 (in 1991 when the CWS first went into effect) to 12, with a majority of journeyman level employees working the CWS. This has left "recurring periods of single coverage with the potential of no coverage during times of unscheduled leave." When journeymen are not available, either someone is reassigned from another area, supervisors are taken off their normal assignments to perform the work, or work is delayed until coverage is available. The net result is a diminishment of the overall level of customer service provided.

    The problems that have arisen in Laundry Services illustrate how adverse agency impact is occurring because of the CWS. Between April 11, 2001, and February 12, 2003, there were 10 incidents on Wednesdays when a journeyman employee from the Machine Shop was on his CWS off-day, which delayed needed repairs to washers, dryers, and ironer folders, reducing production and the quality of service to customers within the facility. Additionally, evidence of adverse agency impact is provided through memoranda submitted by supervisors of the Bio-Med, Maintenance, Carpenter/Plumbing, and Electric Shops attesting to, among other things, the difficulties the CWS has caused in ensuring there are enough people present "to do the work when the work needs to be done."

    While the Employer "acknowledges that the [CWS] has personal benefits to employees, this must be weighed against the need to provide service at the appropriate times." Among the benefits of eliminating the CWS are an increase in journeyman level coverage during the normal workweek, improved coordination of ongoing work between engineering disciplines and affected medical center departments, and increases in the number of supervised hours and needed training for employees. For example, had the CWS not been in effect for the period of January 13, 2002, through August 24, 2002, the aggregate number of work hours available during the normal workweek in the Machine, Bio-Med, Air Conditioning, and Pipefitting Shops would have increased by 1,330, and there would have been an additional 134 days where no coverage or single coverage would not have occurred.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union urges the Panel to find that the Employer has not met its statutory burden under the Act, and permit the 4/10 CWS in Engineering Services to continue. The CWS "has successfully and positively impacted productivity and morale" for over 10 years, as demonstrated by the testimony of affected employees, and non-unit employees in other divisions, both in terms of accommodating family needs, and in improving service to customers. Among other things, compressed tours: (1) permit employees to take care of family issues without having to use annual and family-friendly leave; (2) provide greater hours of service to the public during a given workday; (3) avoid disruption to client care during clinic hours; and (4) minimize the need for call-backs and overtime in emergency situations because of extended hours of coverage during each workday.

    The Employer, on the other hand, has failed to provide "any proof supported by documentation" that the CWS has created an adverse agency impact. Moreover, even if there has been a diminished level of service to the public, management "should take the credit for creating the situation" by not filling positions "that became vacant in a timely manner if at all." In this regard, it continues to send a biomedical equipment technician from Knoxville to its Des Moines Division, in effect creating the coverage problem in the Bio-Med Shop that it alleges is caused by the CWS. To the extent that the Employer’s allegation of adverse agency impact is based on a lack of supervisory staff, "engineering is and traditionally has been a self-directed, self-motivated department, receiving work orders from office staff in man