DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY BORDER AND TRANSPORTATION SECURITY DIRECTORATE BUREAU OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES TEXAS SERVICE CENTER DALLAS, TEXAS and LOCAL 3377, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BORDER AND TRANSPORTATION
SECURITY
     DIRECTORATE
BUREAU OF CITIZENSHIP AND
     IMMIGRATION SERVICES
TEXAS SERVICE CENTER
DALLAS, TEXAS

and

LOCAL 3377, AMERICAN FEDERATION
     OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 03 FSIP 77

DECISION AND ORDER

   Local 3377, American Federation of Government Employees, 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 Homeland Security, Border and Transportation Security Directorate, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Texas Service Center, Dallas, Texas (Employer).(1)

   Following investigation of the Union’s request for assistance in the case, which arose during mid-term negotiations over the Employer’s Work-at-Home Program (WAHP),(2) the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference by telephone with Panel Member Andrea Fischer Newman. The parties were advised that if no settlement was reached, Member Newman would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and her recommendations 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, Member Newman conducted an informal conference with the parties by telephone on July 2, 2003. Although progress was made in reducing the scope of the dispute, the parties were unable to reach an overall settlement. Afterwards, they submitted their final offers and supporting statements of position. Member Newman has reported to the Panel and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

   The Employer’s mission is to promote national security, continue to eliminate immigration adjudications backlogs, implement solutions for improving immigration customer services, and continue efforts to fundamentally transform and improve the delivery of immigration and citizenship services. The Union represents approximately 600 employees in North Texas and Oklahoma who are part of a nationwide bargaining unit of over 15,500. It is part of the National Immigration and Naturalization Service Council (NINSC). The parties’ master collective bargaining agreement was due to expire in June 2003.

   About 330 unit employees are located at the Texas Service Center (TSC) in Dallas, Texas, where this dispute arises. The unit includes Center Adjudication Officers (CAOs), Application Adjudicators (AAs), Immigration Information Officers, Intelligence Research Specialists, Intelligence Assistants, Automated Data Processors, Congressional Liaison Specialists, secretaries, and clerks, at grade levels GS-3 through GS-12. AAs are the primary group of employees affected by the instant impasse.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

   The parties essentially disagree over the grade level at which AAs should be eligible to participate in the WAHP.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes the following wording:

The following positions and grade levels would be eligible to participate in the Work-At-Home-Program: (1) Center Adjudication Officer - GS-9; GS-11; GS-12; (2) Immigration Information Officer - GS-8; and Application Adjudicator - GS-7.

Expanding the program to include GS-7 AAs is consistent with the Congressional definition of the types of employees who should be eligible to work at home. It is also supported by policy guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management, and the findings of a "joint management/bargaining unit Process Action Team" that studied the matter during the first and second quarters of FY 2002 and identified 11 benefits to the program, including "cost-effectiveness." In addition, the only reason AAs were excluded from the program at its inception in 1999 was because the position did not exist at that time. Participation in the program should be determined by supervisors on the basis of an assessment of the individual characteristics of employees. In this regard, experience in a position is a better measurement than pay grade for determining whether an employee should be permitted to work at home.

   Contrary to the Employer’s position, there is no guarantee if, or when, the AA journeyman grade level will become GS-9. As a compromise, the Union is willing to agree to permit AAs with 52 weeks of experience at the GS-7 level to be eligible to participate. Expansion of the WAHP is also "the best solution for the projected shortage of workspace at the TSC," and would provide an alternative to implementing a second shift. Union surveys of unit employees show significant opposition to the implementation of a second shift, which would be "suicidal" for the TSC. In terms of comparability, the TSC was the "pioneer" in establishing a WAHP among the agency’s four service centers, yet it currently has only 44 participating employees while the others each have over 100. With a computer system capable of supporting 600 work-at-home employees, there is no justification for such low participation rates.

2. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer’s offer at the conclusion of the informal conference by telephone is as follows:

Lower the grade level eligibility of Center Adjudication Officers to GS-9 and include Applications Adjudicators GS-9 to the list of eligible positions. All other grade levels and position types will remain status quo.

The adoption of its final offer is more likely than the Union’s to ensure that participants in the WAHP "meet a threshold of experience, responsibility and accountability," criteria to which the parties mutually agreed at its inception. In this regard, a comparative analysis between GS-7 and GS-9 AA position descriptions demonstrates that the former "requires greater oversight of the employee by the supervisor." The "regular and recurring guidance" and mentoring that GS-7 AAs receive permit supervisors to "readily discern the maturity and soundness" of employees’ professional development. This allows employees "to have a proven level of experience, responsibility and accountability." Moreover, while TSC management has determined that a number of GS-9 CAOs possess the "professional maturity" to participate in the WAHP, and has agreed to lower the grade level for eligibility accordingly, "to simply acquire eligibility by attaining a government service level or grade is not the deciding factor, it is merely a preliminary requirement for review eligibility." The critical evaluation of the three criteria "must be reviewed on an employee-by-employee basis." Finally, the "competitive upgrade" of the AA position to the GS-9 level is "anticipated . . . in the very near future."

CONCLUSIONS

   Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties on this issue, we conclude that the Employer’s final offer provides the better basis for resolving their impasse. We note preliminarily that the Employer has acceded to the Union’s initial demand that eligibility for participation in the WAHP by CAOs be lowered to GS-9, subject to further individual assessments of suitability on an employee-by-employee basis. Thus, the parties’ dispute has been reduced to