United States of America



In the Matter of






Case No.05 FSIP 129



    Local 3509, 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 Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Social Security Administration, Gainesville Field Office, Gainesville, Georgia (SSA or Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, which concerns the relocation of the Gainesville Field Office, should be resolved through an informal conference with Panel Member Grace Flores-Hughes. The parties were informed that if no settlement were reached during the informal conference, Member Flores-Hughes would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would settle the matter by taking whatever action it deems appropriate, which may include the issuance of a Decision and Order.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, Member Flores-Hughes met with the parties on January 19, 2006, in Gainesville, Georgia. During the course of the meeting, the parties reached voluntary agreements on some matters, but were unable to resolve issues concerning the floor plan, elevator breakdowns, and the use of the balconies. Thereafter, the parties submitted their final offers and brief supporting statements on the issues. Member Flores-Hughes has reported to the Panel and it has now considered the entire record.


    The Employer's mission is to administer retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, and supplemental security income programs. The Union represents a nationwide bargaining unit of approximately 55,000 employees who primarily work as service representatives, claims representatives, clerks, and technicians, at grades GS-5 through -11. Approximately 23 employees work in the Gainesville Field Office. The relocation is currently scheduled to occur in March 2006. The national agreement (NA) covering these employees is due to expire on August 15, 2009.


    The parties disagree over: (1) the office's floor plan; (2) management's responsibilities in the event of elevator breakdowns; and (3) access to the balconies.


1.  Floor Plan

    a. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes to place the break room/interactive video training (IVT) room on the southwest corner of the office, and some employee workstations along a southern corridor near windows. Employees want the break room in a desirable location with windows and a view of the lake. Under its proposed floor plan, the break room would be in a "pleasant place" where employees can be refreshed during their short breaks and lunches. This would "enhance the employees' rest breaks, improve their morale, and probably improve overall productivity." In addition, the proposal would put more windows in the general workspace adding more natural light, which would further contribute to increases in morale and productivity. The Employer's proposal, on the other hand, would put the break room "in the worst possible location," with few windows and no view of the lake. The Employer's proposal also provides fewer windows in employees' overall workspace.

    b. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes to place the break room/IVT room on the southeast corner of the office, with the storage room along the south wall. Employee workstations would be located in the southwest corner of the office. Under its proposed floor plan, the break room/IVT room would be contiguous with a dividing partition allowing maximum flexibility in opening the room up for a larger meeting space. This would "promote[] a private training environment conducive for short and long term training," and provide an "ample area" for training, lunch, or breaks. Further, there would be three windows located at the back or south side of the room, supplying employees with an adequate amount of natural light. Finally, locating the break room/IVT room in the southeast corner of the office would permit workstations to be grouped together so employees have "the most direct path" to the Front-end Interviewing (FEI) and reception areas. The southwest placement of workstations also puts employees beside and near windows for optimum ambient light.


    After thoroughly reviewing the evidence and arguments with respect to this issue, we are persuaded that the Employer's final offer provides the more reasonable basis for resolving the dispute. In this regard, the Employer's proposed floor plan allows more direct access from employees' workstations to the FEI and reception areas, and provides better lines of sight for purposes of supervision, than the Union's. Moreover, because employees undoubtedly spend more time at their workstations than in the break room, it is also superior because it provides employees with aesthetically pleasing views for longer periods. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer's final offer.

2.  Elevator Breakdowns

    a. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes the following wording:

When the elevator is not working, employees who have medical certificates stating that they cannot or should not climb stairs, will either be assigned work in another location where climbing stairs is not necessary, or granted an excused absence. Medical certifications will not be required when the employee has obvious mobility impairment. If the elevator stops working while employees or members of the public are in the office, management will request emergency services personnel to assist those who need help getting out of the building.

Its proposal is necessary given that the construction of the building is inconsistent with SSA's space allocation standards for field offices by having only one elevator. The proposal should be adopted because it affords options, other than using personal leave, for those who are unable to climb stairs to get to the office in the event the elevator fails to function properly.

    b. The Employer's Position

The Employer proposes:

Appropriate arrangements will be made for employees who present medical certificates indicating they cannot or should not climb stairs in the event the elevator is not functioning. This may include but is not limited to assignment to another office, approving excused absence, or setting up an alternative work arrangement, etc. Medical certificates will not be required when the employee has already established obvious mobility impairment. In an emergency situation the office Physical Security Action Plan/Occupant Emergency Plan will be followed.

The proposal should be adopted because it guarantees that certain employees are accommodated if the elevator breaks down while providing management with maximum latitude in determining how to do so. In addition, the office's Physical Security Action Plan/Occupant Emergency Plan "specifically addresses evacuation plans in emergency situations and has been used on an ongoing basis to address various contingency for unexpected circumstances." The parties also have agreed that the plan will soon be revised to deal with changes resulting from the relocation.


    Having carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties in support of their proposals, we shall order the adoption of the Employer's final offer to resolve their impasse. In our view, it meets employees' interests in the special circumstances it addresses without unduly limiting management's flexibility to respond in the manner it deems most appropriate. Moreover, the Union's proposal unacceptably goes beyond the scope of the Employer's bargaining obligation by requiring management to take certain actions with respect to members of the public.

3.  Access to Balconies

    a. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that employees have access during breaks and lunch periods to all of the balconies opening from the general work area. Access to a greater number of balconies for longer periods than the Employer proposes would increase employee morale without any cost to management or detriment to the Agency's mission.

    b. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes that the southern balcony be available for breaks and lunches, and to provide that area with a table and chairs. In addition, the center two balconies on the north side of the building would be available to employees for breaks. Under its proposal, employees would have access to three of the five balconies. In its view, the proposal adequately "addresses the issue regarding sufficient ambient light and access to lake-front views during breaks and lunches."


    Having considered the arguments presented on this issue, we believe the Employer's proposal provides the more practical resolution of the parties' impasse. In this regard, limiting employees' ability to eat lunch on the southern balcony makes sense because it is the largest balcony and nearest to the break room under the Employer's floor plan. The northern balconies, on the other hand, are next to the FEI and reception areas in plain view of the public, which make them less desirable for use as lunch areas. For similar reasons, it is also better to restrict access to the balcony directly adjacent to the reception area, as the Employer proposes. Even under the Employer's restrictions, however, we are persuaded that employees' needs are adequately accounted for. Therefore, we shall order the adoption of the Employer's final offer.