DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE ELMENDORF AFB, ALASKA and LOCAL 1101, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE
ELMENDORF AFB, ALASKA

and

LOCAL 1101, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

 

Case No. 03 FSIP 93

DECISION AND ORDER

   Local 1101, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union), filed a request for assstance 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 the Air Force, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska (Employer), not to implement a 5-4/9 compressed work schedule (CWS) for Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) Flight WG-10 mechanics.

   Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through an informal conference at Elmendorf Air Force Base with Panel Member Mark A. Carter. The parties were informed that if no settlement was reached during the informal conference, Member Carter would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute. After considering the 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.

   Accordingly, statements of positions were submitted, and an informal conference was conducted by Member Carter on July 3, 2003. Although the parties explored various scenarios for settlement, they were unable to resolve their dispute. Member Carter permitted the parties to submit additional statements following the conclusion of the informal conference. The Panel has now considered the entire record, including the parties’ pre- and post-conference written submissions.

BACKGROUND

   The Employer's mission is to provide direct support to aircraft by repairing and maintaining ground support equipment. The Employer services 440 volt generators and other equipment that exceeds 300 volts to power heaters for warming up aircraft in cold weather as a preliminary step to aircraft service. The Union represents 689 employees at WG-4 through -12, and GS-4 through -11. Unit employees work positions such as aircraft mechanic, boiler and steam line mechanic, secretary, childcare worker, cook, medical technician, and contract specialist. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to expire on December 31, 2003; they plan to negotiate a successor CBA beginning in the Fall.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

   In accordance with section 6131(c)(2)(b) of the Act, the issue in dispute is whether the findings on which the Employer bases its determination not to establish a 5-4/9 CWS for affected full-time and seasonal WG-10 mechanics who work in Building 8326(1) is supported by evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an adverse agency impact.(2)

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

   The Panel should find that the evidence on which the Employer bases its determination not to implement the proposed CWS for the affected mechanics establishes that the schedule is likely to cause an adverse agency impact, as defined under the Act. The schedule, if implemented, would reduce the agency’s productivity due to safety and accountability concerns and increase the cost of agency operations. With respect to the productivity-related issue of safety, Air Force Occupational Safety and Health Standard 91-501 requires that two employees, a safety observer and a mechanic, be present when equipment rated over 300 volts is being operated or maintained. On a daily basis, any WG-10 mechanic could be assigned the task of troubleshooting or repairing one of the "66 pieces of 440-volt electrical driven or operated equipment" located in the 4 work centers in Building 8326. The Union’s proposal would result in affected employees working alone during some part of the day. Thus, the Employer would have to: (1) assign "non-hazardous equipment" duties to avoid compromising safety standards, or (2) hire more employees to ensure the availability of an observer. As to the shops where employees currently are on a CWS, these "are three-shift operations and military personnel from the swing shift are available to act as the required safety person."

   In addition, the Union’s proposal "is in direct conflict with M[aintenance] O[perating] I[nstruction] 21-138," which requires "any lost or missing tool [to be] brought to the attention of the shop supervisor immediately." Again, if the mechanic were to work without a supervisor present, and a tool were lost, that reduction in productivity would amount to an adverse agency impact.(3) Neither Pacific Air Forces Instruction 21-101, Chapter 20, nor the Air Force Instruction (AFI) 21-101 permit a WG-10 employee to be designated as a Composite Tool Kit (CTK) Custodian; CTK Custodians are so designated by the flight commander/chief.(4) Such a duty "is not within the responsibility level of a WG-10 as described in their Core Personnel Document." While WG-10 employees are expected to "monitor" tools in compliance with the regulations, and are "not specifically prohibit[ed] from being appointed" as custodians, it is the CTK Custodian who is "accountable" for tool security. As a direct result of the proposed 5-4/9 schedule, to ensure tools are properly accounted for, the work hours of five supervisors would need to be changed; the "[a]nnual impact or cost for moving 5 supervisors is 7,280 x $22.11 per hour which equates to agency costs of $160,960.80.

   Finally, under the Union’s proposal, all services (bench stock, support and hazardous waste) are to be available to the mechanics. These services are provided by the Flight Support Section, a section manned with military personnel. Therefore, the Union’s proposal also would adversely affect productivity by requiring the work schedules of the military to be changed to "enable civilian employees to take a three-day weekend every other week." The high operations tempo at the installation causes military members to be tasked with other assignments as well.

2. The Union’s Position

   The Panel should find that the Employer has not met its burden under the Act, and establish the 5-4/9 CWS for these civilian mechanics.(5) CWSs are working successfully in units that have implemented them: "The units have experienced greater coverage during the work day, and a decrease in the use of annual and sick leave." Participants morale also has improved.(6)

   The Employer’s accountability and safety concerns are "speculative" as the 5-4/9 schedule has not been tested in Building 8326. As to tool accountability, the Employer’s views on the level of oversight WG-10 mechanics need are not supported. In this regard, employees’ position descriptions do not require "close supervision" to ensure compliance, and employees are "well aware of the safety regulations and standards" because they have many years of experience. That they are required to comply with the CTK program (a critical element ranked at 5 percent in their performance plans) gives credence to the view that they "are more than qualified to perform the function as CTK Custodians." Neither of the applicable regulations that govern such matters prohibit WG-10 employees from performing such tasks. Instead, "each work center has a tool box," which employees access and inventory on a daily basis. If a special tool not stored at the workplace is needed, access can be scheduled. Furthermore, these duties are being assigned to WG civilians in many other areas on the installation.

   The estimates the Employer presents on additional time and costs the schedule would entail are "outrageous." A timed walk to all of the work centers in Building 8326, which is 180 feet wide and 360 feet long, took 5 minutes, with a few more minutes to open each key box where the tool box keys are kept. It would take approximately "16.25 hours for each supervisor for the entire winter season" (a total of 65 hours), and would cost approximately $1,437.15. In seven interviews the Union conducted with employees in other locations at Elmendorf AFB, employees report that they or other WG-10 mechanics they work with, have keys to the facilities where they work and access to CTK tool kits under AFI 3.83-2.1, which deals with tool accountability.

   On the subject of safety monitoring for work on electrical systems rated over 300 volts, most equipment repairs are on a regular schedule, so a safety monitor can be made available when necessary; repairs on lower voltage equipment do not require a second employee to act as an observer.

   While the Employer’s concerns are not well-founded, several options offered during negotiations would have put them to rest. These include a reduced or a staggered lunch period, and placing military personnel on the 5-4/9 CWS. The latter suggestion is one that is in use at other work centers at Elmendorf AFB.

CONCLUSIONS

   Under section 6131(c)(2) of the Act, the Panel is required to take final action in favor of the agency head’s (or delegatee’s) determination not to establish a CWS only if the finding on which it is based is supported by evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an "adverse agency impact." Having considered the record before us, we find that the Employer has met its statutory burden. We conclude that the evidence presented supports a finding that the proposed CWS is likely to reduce productivity, thereby causing an adverse agency impact.

   With respect to the schedule’s impact, the Union does not dispute the Employer’s assertion that the proposed 5-4/9 CWS would result in bargaining-unit employees working in an unsupervised environment during part of almost every work day. The limited nature of the tasks that could be performed in those circumstances would, of themselves, reduce productivity during those periods. Similarly, avoiding that result would also compromise productivity by forcing the Employer to divert supervisors from other duties and/or assign them to work extra hours to ensure that regulatory accountability and safety strictures are met. Under applicable regulations, the designated custodian must be present to secure and release tools and, when high voltage equipment is undergoing repairs, a safety observer must be present with the mechanic. By contrast, employees in those sections of the installation where CWSs have been adopted work three shifts rather than one, swing shift employees who have been designated as custodians can account for tools, and they and others are available to act as safety observers.(7)

Accordingly, we shall order the Union to withdraw its CWS proposal.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act, 5 U.S.C. § 6131(c), the Federal Services Impasses Panel, under § 2472.11(b) of its regulations, hereby orders the Union to withdraw its proposal.

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky
Executive Director

August 12, 2003
Washington, D.C.

1. Nine AGE Flight employees are affected by the dispute. Daily operations at Building 8326 run from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the standard work hours for the entire 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron. The Building is manned year round by military personnel on an 8-hour work schedule with 1 hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks.

2. 5 U.S.C. § 6131(b) defines adverse agency impact as:

(1) a reduction in the productivity of the agency; 

(2) a diminished level of the services furnished to the public by the agency; or

(3) an increase in the cost of operations (other than a reasonable administrative cost relating to the process of establishing a flexible or compressed work schedule).

The Act does not require the Employer to demonstrate adverse agency impact under each of the three criteria in 5 U.S.C. § 6131(b). It is sufficient to demonstrate a substantial effect on the agency under one of the three. The burden of demonstrating the implementation of a proposed CWS is likely to cause an adverse agency impact falls on the employer under the Act. See 128 CONG. REC. H3999 (daily ed. July 12, 1982) (statement of Rep. Ferraro); and 128 CONG. REC. S7641 (daily ed. June 30, 1982) (statement of Sen. Stevens).

3. A missing tool is a hazard in this environment since it could result in a mechanical failure and catastrophic lost of life and property. The AGE Flight Chief stated that the Flight “lost or misplaced nine tools this past year;” such losses must be immediately reported to the supervisor. One AGE team manager states that the longer AWS work days would result in the need to conduct a second tool count, an inefficiency that would negatively affect productivity. Several managers predict the development of poor work relations stemming from military supervisors having to work an extra 5 hours each week with no compensation so that civilian employees can have a 3-day weekend.

4. In Chapter 20, section 20.2.3, the regulation provides the following definition:

CTK Custodian. Individuals designated in writing by flight commander/chief to manage and control CTKs [composite tool kit].

Chapter 13, section 13.3.2, states:

The flight commander/chief will designate and document CTK Custodians to manage and control CTKs. CTK custodians are responsible for tool, HAZMAT, and equipment accountability and control within their respective areas.

5. The Union proposes that a 6-month test of a 5-4/9 CWS be conducted. On 9 hour days, participating mechanics would work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and take a 30-minute unpaid lunch period. Th