DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION FRAMINGHAM DISTRICT OFFICE FRAMINGHAM, MASSACHUSETTS and LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
FRAMINGHAM DISTRICT OFFICE
LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
Case No. No 90 FSIP 12
DECISION AND ORDER
Local 1164, 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 section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute) between it and the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Framingham District Office, Framingham, Massachusetts (Employer).
The Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved pursuant to written submissions from the parties with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the Impasse. Submissions were made pursuant to these procedures and the Panelhas considered the entire record.
The Employer's mission is to administer retirement, disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs for the public. The Union represents approximately 19 employees in the Framingham District Office who are part of a consolidated bargaining unit consisting of approximately 48,200 employees. The parties are covered by a National Agreement between the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO (AFGE) which went into effect on January 25, 1990, for a 3-year period.
The dispute arose during negotiations over an office relocation which took place in July 1988.
The parties disagree over the following issues: (1) whether employees who work unscheduled overtime should be escorted to their automobiles; (2) the maintenance of adequate lighting and humidity levels in work areas; (3) whether screens should be provided for all exterior windows; and (4) employee parking.
1. The Union's Position
The Union proposes the following: (1) Employees who, as a result of working unscheduled overtime, must leave the building after the office closes to the public at 4:30 p.m., should be provided with an escort to their automobiles upon request to management. (2) During the heating season, the humidity levels should be tested, and, if necessary, a humidifier purchased.
Illumination levels should be monitored jointly by the Union/Management Health and Safety Representatives to ensure maximum employee comfort and minimal eyestrain. To this end, the special conditions created by video display terminals (VDTs) are to be considered. Additionally, task lighting, dimmer switches, and "egg-crate covers" for overhead lighting should be installed.
(3) Screens should be provided for all exterior windows, which management could open as needed. (4) The Employer should continue to provide employee parking. In this regard, within 20 days of the signing of an agreement, the Employer should secure sufficient free parking spaces within reasonable distance of the office for the sole use of bargaining-unit employees. The parking area should be well lighted, secure, and maintained free of snow, ice, weeds, and gravel. If the number of bargaining-unit employees should increase, so should the number of spaces. No fees should be levied on employees for parking.
With respect to escorting employees who work after 4:30 p.m. to their automobiles, the Union notes that since the office has no adjacent parking lot, employees who drive must use parking facilities throughout downtown Framingham. This increases the chances of, among other things, a purse snatching or mugging. The proposal is consistent with a memorandum from SSA's Boston Regional Commissioner suggesting that employees who work late either walk to their automobiles with a group, or request the escort of another employee or security guard.
In support of its proposal concerning lighting and the humidity level in the office, the Union contends that the no-glare screens placed on VDT terminals are ineffective as employees complain of headaches and eyestrain from glare as well as poor lighting. Its proposal responds to the recommendations of a joint AFGE/SSA VDT Policy Committee, which in its "1986 Report on Health and Human Factors Issues Related to the Use of VDTs," found "that glare caused by windows and lights is one of the more prevalent problems of an automated office environment." The Committee urged the use of dimmer switches, "egg-crate covers," and task lighting, to minimize the problem. Additionally, it concluded that the introduction of computer terminals into the workplace may affect the comfort level of workers by increasing the amount of heat and reducing humidity. The Union maintains that its proposal would provide an inexpensive solution to the problem.
As to window screens, the Union argues that their installation would allow the Employer to take advantage of the facility's operable windows and enable their opening in the event that the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system (HVAC) malfunctions. Management would retain the discretion to determine whether to opens the windows.
Finally, in regard to parking, the Union contends that the Employer has an obligation under the National Agreement to maintain its practice of providing free parking. In this regard, it notes that prior to the relocation, all employees had the benefit of free parking in a lot adjacent to the office.
2. The Employer's Position
The Employer proposes that: (1) Employees who leave the building after 6 p.m., as a result of working overtime, may advise the manager on duty of their safety concerns. (2) Management shall work with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the building landlord to assure compliance with SSA and GSA standards regarding health and safety, including ventilation, temperature, humidity, and illumination. (3) The administration shall provide a safe and healthy work environment in accordance with Article 9, Health and Safety, of the National Agreement. (4) Management shall continue to work with the municipal garage in pursuing special rates for the staff. In support of its proposals the Employer argues that personally escorting employees to their automobiles may be unnecessary as the office is not located in a high-crime area; furthermore, it is situated in a well traveled business and shopping area where stores and restaurants remain open at least until 6 p.m. The commercial parking lot where some employees park is staffed until 7 p.m.
With respect to the humidity level and illumination in the office, the Employer states that in the 1 ½ years since the office was relocated, there has been only one complaint about lighting and it was rectified. Moreover, the office is in compliance with the National Agreement and all GSA regulations concerning humidity and illumination. In this regard, a recent humidity test indicated that the humidity level is within the proper range. These issues already have been addressed in an agreement at the national level concerning the Claims Modernization Project/Field Office Systems Enhancement (CMP/FOSE) where the parties agreed that when a problem with heating or lighting exists, which affects the health and safety of employees, management would actively pursue its correction.
In regard to placing screens on windows, the Employer maintains that allowing open windows with screens would be inconsistent with the environmentally controlled HVAC system. Noise and pollution from the street below could permeate the workspace.
Finally, with respect to parking, the Employer contends that it has no obligation to provide free parking to employees as AFGE abandoned that demand during term negotiations over Article 13, of the National Agreement, entitled Parking and Transportation. Currently, employees are able to park in a municipal garage, or nearby parking lot, at discounted rates.
Having considered the evidence and arguments, we are persuaded that the Employer's proposals with respect to employee safety, office lighting and humidity levels, and window screens should serve as the bases for resolving those issues.
They provide a reasonable accommodation for those employees who may have concerns about their safety when leaving the office late, and often after dark. In our views the Union's proposal to provide personal escorts to all employees leaving the building after 4:30 p.m., does not appear to be warranted since we are unpersuaded that the office is located in a high-crime area.
With respect to office lighting and humidity levels, we note that not only has there been a general absence of complaints to management concerning those matters, but also when tested the office recently fell within the GSA guidelines on humidity levels. The Employer's proposal assures that it would work with GSA and the building landlord to maintain compliance with health and safety regulations as they affect the office environment. We find, therefore, no need for the measures proposed by the Union.
As to the installation of screens on windows, the evidence fails to establish that they would be of any significant benefit. Rather, in our view, their installation may jeopardize the integrity of the building's HVAC system, and, should the windows be opened, allow pollution and noise to permeate the office.
Finally, in regard to the parties' dispute over free parking for employees, we decline jurisdiction over the matter because it involves a question of contract interpretation. In this regard, the Union contends that pursuant to Article 13, section 2, of the National Agreement, the Employer has an obligation to provide free parking to employees. The Employer denies the conten