DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS WASHINGTON, D.C. and NATIONAL VA COUNCIL, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
NATIONAL VA COUNCIL,
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
Case Nos. 90 FSIP 32 and 90 FSIP 57
DECISION AND ORDER
The Department of Veterans Affairs (Employer) and the National VA Council, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union), each 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).
After investigation of the requests for assistance, which have been consolidated for consideration, the Panel directed the parties to meet informally with Staff Associate Ellen J. Kolansky for the purpose of resolving the issue at impasse. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mrs. Kolansky would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute and her recommendations for resolving the issues. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse including the issuance of a binding decision.
Mrs. Kolansky met with the parties on February 21, 1990, at which time the parties were unable to reach agreement. Accordingly, she reported to the Panel based on the record developed by the parties and their final offers. The Panel has now considered the entire record.
The Employer provides health care to veterans, orphans, and widows; disability benefits, and loans for housing, business, and educational purposes. Affected employees, who are part of a nationwide consolidated unit, work mainly as practical nurses, ward secretaries, launderers, housekeepers, and accounting and payroll employees, GS-2 through -5. The parties' master agreement has been rolled over a number of times, and will expire on August 13, 1990.
The dispute before the Panel results from national level mid-term bargaining over the Employer's decision to exercise its discretion to establish a fee for parking at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (VAMC). Currently, free surface parking is available to employees at the facility. In September 1989, more spaces were added due to completion of a new multi-tier parking garage. By Statute, the Secretary of the Department has such discretion at parking facilities funded before September 30, 1986 (discretionary-fee facilities). Fees are mandatory for spaces funded after that date which cost over $500,000, or are leased at an annual rental over $100,000 (mandatory-fee facilities).(1) At the national level, the parties agreed that mandatory fees would be determined by appraising the fair market rental value for equivalent commercial space, and charging 50 percent of such average fees. The medical facility in this case is one of four discretionary-fee facilities selected for study and possible institution of a fee.(2)
Under VA parking regulations, priority for parking is given to veterans, persons transporting them, visitors, and then to employees. Approximately 100 spaces will be reserved for employees in 3-person carpools. No studies were conducted to predict the demand for parking, but many veterans who use the facility arrive by public conveyances. Construction of ambulatory-care clinics is continuing at the facility, and a Naval hospital is planned for an adjoining site.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties are in dispute over the amount to be charged for surface and garage parking available to bargaining-unit employees in three or more person carpools it the Philadelphia VAMC.
1. The Employer's Position
As a preliminary matter, the Employer requests the issue before the Panel be amended to include not just the monthly fee, but the weekly, weekend, daily, evening, and hourly fees as well.
On the merits, the Employer proposes a $35 monthly fee, which is 50 percent of the parking fees charged by comparable commercial garages in Philadelphia, thereby applying the mandatory-fee formula. Use of the same appraisal system at both mandatory-fee and discretionary-fee facilities assures that fees charged will be consistent, fair, and reasonable. Deviating from the agreed-upon system or repeating the appraisal would add nothing.
Although there are no parking fees currently, the new garage is an improvement which justifies such charges. Further, the impact of the fee would be lessened because it would be shared by several carpool members. Single occupant vehicles would be discouraged. Employees unable to afford parking could travel by bus, trolley, or train located at the main entrance of the VAMC or within walking distance. Moreover, since fees collected would be placed in a revolving fund, their accumulation would provide tangible evidence to the Office of Management and Budget and Congress of efforts to reduce the need for future appropriations in accordance with the law.
2. The Union's Position
The Union disputes acceding to the Employer's request to amend the issue from that originally presented. Under the Union's proposal, the parties would maintain the status quo, i.e., free parking. If a fee were to be charged, a new appraisal method should be negotiated. The Employer's monthly figure is too high, does not take into account the low salaries of many employees, some below the poverty level, and that other medical facilities in the area subsidize parking. Further, a fee may increase recruiting and retention problems which can lower the morale of those who remain on the job. Since the disruptions and debris from current construction will continue for at least 12 to 15 months, the imposition of a fee under such conditions is unreasonable. Moreover, the Navy has plans to construct adjacent medical facilities which would offer free parking to its employees. It is possible the garages would share a common entrance which would remind VA employees of the disparity in treatment.
Having considered the parties' final offers, and supporting evidence and argument, we conclude that the Union's proposal provides a reasonable basis for settlement of this dispute, which renders the question regarding the scope of the issue moot. On the merits, we note that bargaining-unit employees at the Philadelphia VAMC are compensated at essentially the same rates as those working at the Lexington, Kentucky, VAMC. The results of the parking appraisal there indicate that commercial parking rates are low, which reflect the lower cost of living in that area. We are persuaded that charging employees for parking at Philadelphia VAMC when no fee worth collecting could be established for the comparable facility at Lexington, Kentucky, would permit a paradoxical result, i.e., increasing costs for low-paid employees already coping with a higher cost of living. Further, no fees for parking have been required in the past, and employees have come to rely on the benefit. Although some of the money collected would be placed in a fund to use for offsetting the costs of future construction, it is doubtful that such amounts would ever come close to financing the construction costs for even one new garage. Given these circumstances, we are persuaded that the benefits in morale and savings to employees which would result from a continuation of the parties' practice outweigh the loss of fees to the Employer, and, accordingly, we shall order the ad