DEPARTMENT OF LABOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION DIRECTORATE OF STANDARDS AND GUIDANCE WASHINGTON, D.C. and LOCAL 12, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL


In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
  ADMINISTRATION
DIRECTORATE OF STANDARDS AND
  GUIDANCE
WASHINGTON, D.C.

and

LOCAL 12, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
  GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 05 FSIP 49

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 12, American Federation of Government Employees (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 Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Directorate of Standards and Guidance, Washington, D.C. (Employer or DSG).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, which concerns the installation of sliding doors on cubicle offices, should be resolved through an informal conference with Panel representatives. The parties were informed that if no settlement was reached during that meeting, the Panel's representatives would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and their recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would resolve the matter by taking whatever action it deems appropriate, which could include the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, Chief Legal Advisor Donna M. DiTullio and Special Assistant to the Chairman Victoria L. Dutcher met with the parties on April 5, 2005, which included a tour of the workspace that is to be renovated, as well as other offices in the Employer's Headquarters building where cubicle workstations have been outfitted with sliding Plexiglas doors. At the close of the meeting, however, the matter remained unresolved. In accordance with the Panel's procedural determination, the parties submitted their final offers on the issue. The Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The DSG, an organizational entity within OSHA, is charged with developing and writing standards, regulations and guidance that address significant workplace risks; it is the only directorate that deals with rule making. The Union represents a bargaining unit consisting of approximately 3,600 professional and non-professional employees stationed in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Of those, approximately 40 who work in DSG are affected by this dispute; of that number, most are professional employees who hold positions such as industrial hygienist, toxicologist, health scientist, epidemiologist and statistician. On March 20, 2005, the parties implemented a new master collective-bargaining agreement, which has a 3-year term.

    During the past few years, the Employer has scheduled renovations of various offices in its Headquarters building. Currently, DSG is in line to undergo needed changes that would include painting, re-carpeting, and new cubicle workstations and furniture for employees. During negotiations and mediation the parties were able to resolve all issues, save one.

ISSUE

    The parties disagree over whether cubicle workstations should be equipped with sliding Plexiglas doors.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    In lieu of sliding doors, the Employer proposes that cubicle offices be equipped with a privacy panel affixed near the cubicle entranceway. These panels would provide a measure of privacy for the occupant by shielding some work area from the view of passersby. While a privacy panel would not serve to fully enclose a cubicle workspace, it should help to reduce noise and, to some extent, visual distractions from hallway foot traffic. It is important that cubicle workstations remain open and accessible to others to encourage the interaction and collegiality among employees that is necessary to successfully perform their work. Because of the technical nature of the work, employees need solitude, but they also need interaction with other staff members on projects. Doors tend to discourage interaction; privacy panels would strike a balance between privacy and quiet.

    This outcome would allow a long-standing practice to be retained whereby employees have cubicle workstations that are not fully enclosed. Moreover, it would be far less expensive to have privacy panels than sliding Plexiglas doors on cubicle entranceways. Finally, the high percentage of employees who work under the flexiplace program or compressed work schedules (CWS) has a bearing on this issue. In this regard, 15 of 35 professional employees work at home 1 or 2 days a week; other employees work compressed schedules which give them a regular day off once or twice a pay period. Because flexiplace and CWS tend to diminish the opportunities for employees to collaborate on projects, it is important that employees make the most of their time spent in the office; cubicles with doors may serve as a deterrent to the collaborative efforts needed to complete work projects.

2. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that the Employer take the following action:

Install Steelcase Kick Systems Furniture sliding doors in J-shaped cubicles in Suite N-3718 of the Frances Perkins Building. This suite contains the bargaining unit employees who work on Health Standards within the Directorate of Standards and Guidance of the Occupational Safety and Health. This agreement [] would not establish precedent for other space changes in OSHA to provide sliding doors for systems furniture cubicles in the future.

Sliding doors on cubicles would reduce significantly the noise levels and visual distractions in the office. Since employees perform highly technical work that requires meticulous attention to detail, it would be beneficial to have enclosed workspace to provide them with optimal working conditions. Employees are professional, highly educated (6 of 35 have doctorate degrees) and quite competent in their work; a sliding door would not be a deterrent to collaboration or an impediment to meeting work requirements as employees are well aware of what they need to do to complete their work projects. While a sliding door would cost more than a privacy panel, the benefit to management would outweigh the cost because having a greater degree of privacy in their offices likely would help employees concentrate better on their work. In addition, the Employer has authorized sliding doors for cubicle offices in other directorates where employees have little need for privacy. In this regard, the Business Operations Center has cubicle office space with sliding doors even though those employees perform customer service work and, therefore, appear to have less need for a door than employees in DSG who operate in what is akin to an academic environment.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented on this issue, in our view the Employer's position provides the better resolution of this matter. We are persuaded by the Employer's contention that the work in DSG requires employees to engage in collaborative efforts in the performance of their duties. An office environment without doors is more likely to ensure that this occurs. Moreover, employees have been operating successfully for some time without doors on their cubicle workspace and the expense associated with their installation does not appear to be justified. In this regard, no evidence was submitted by the Union that employees have complained of noise in the office. The Employer's approach, on the other hand, should provide employees with a measure of privacy and quiet without serving as a deterrent to the interaction that apparently is needed for them to continue with the successful performance of their duties. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer's proposal.

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 under 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:

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