DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICE NORTHEAST REGION BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS and CHAPTER 255, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of 

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE 

FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICE 

NORTHEAST REGION 

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS 

and 

CHAPTER 255, NATIONAL TREASURY 

EMPLOYEES UNION 

Case No. 90 FSIP 112

 

DECISION AND ORDER

Chapter 255, National Treasury Employees Union (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 Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Northeast Region, Boston, Massachusetts (Employer).

The Panel determined that the case should be resolved through an informal conference via telephone between the parties and Chief Legal Advisor Donna M. Di Tullio. If there were no settlement, she was to notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the matter. Following consideration of this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse.

Ms. Di Tullio conducted a telephone conference with the parties on August 28, 1990, during which the parties agreed that negotiations over their first term agreement would be held in Boston, Massachusetts, where the Employer's headquarters office is located. They were unable to resolve two other groundrules issues. Ms. Di Tullio reported to the Panel based upon the record developed by the parties, and the Panel has now considered the entire record, including her recommendations for settlement.

BACKGROUND

The Employer's mission is to administer and monitor state and local food and nutrition programs in the New England states and New York. The Union represents approximately 110 bargaining-unit employees, of whom 60 percent are stationed in the Employer's headquarters office and the rest in 9 field offices throughout the region. Typically, employees hold positions such as food program specialist, computer program analyst, financial management specialist, data entry transcriber, and clerk. The Union became the exclusive bargaining representative in September 1989. The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) also represents four other bargaining units within the Food and Nutrition Service.

During term negotiations, the Union will have on its bargaining team no more than three employees on official time.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

The parties disagree over the schedule for negotiations, and to what extent, if any, the Employer should pay the travel and per diem expenses of a member of the Union's bargaining team who would be on official time during negotiations.

1. Negotiation Schedule

    a. The Employer's Position

The Employer proposes that the parties have 5 weeks of negotiations without third-party assistance, with the option of an additional week upon mutual agreement. According to the Employer, 5 weeks should be long enough for the parties to complete bargaining; however, a longer negotiation schedule may be needed since they do not have an established collective-bargaining relationship. Thus, the option for a 6th week of bargaining would ensure that if negotiations must be continued beyond 5 weeks, a procedure is in place for extending negotiations.

    b. The Union's Position

The Union proposes that the parties have 3 weeks of unassisted negotiations, with no option for extending bargaining. The proposal provides sufficient time for negotiations and, should issues remain unresolved, the parties already have agreed to bargain, if necessary, with third-party assistance. A shorter period for negotiations as proposed by the Union is justified since NTEU has negotiated contracts with several other regions within the Food and Nutrition Service and it intends to use, to some extent, those agreements as models for negotiations with the Employer with the hope of reducing the amount of time for negotiations. Furthermore, absent some assistance from the Employer with travel and per diem expenses incurred by members of the Union's bargaining team who are on official time, any period longer than 3 weeks would create a severe financial hardship for the Union.

 

2. Travel and Per Diem

    a. The Employer's Position

The Employer takes the position that it should not have to assume responsibility for the payment of travel allowances and per diem expenses incurred by any member of the Union's negotiating team during any stage of negotiations. Its reasoning is, simply, that due to the current uncertainties with respect to its budget for fiscal year 1991, it is unable to absorb any portion of the Union's expenses for its team members on official time. Once its budget is approved, however, it would then be in a position to negotiate over the matter.

    b. The Union's Position

The Union proposes that the Employer pay 100 percent of the travel and per diem expenses for 1 field office employee on its bargaining team for the duration of unassisted negotiations, and 75 percent of those expenses incurred during the agreed-upon 2 weeks of assisted negotiations, if necessary, with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and the Panel. Due to the potential for a lengthy bargaining period should the Panel adopt the Employer's proposal concerning the negotiation schedule, and the costs associated with collective bargaining, reimbursement of some of the Union's expenses would allow the Union to defray some of its costs. Thus, the Union would be able to include on its bargaining team an employee from one of the field offices. Field office representation is important due to the unique issues which arise there and the large number of employees who are stationed in the field.

Moreover, the proposal is reasonable given that the Union will be paying the expenses for the other two employees as well as its two staff members who will be on the bargaining team.

CONCLUSIONS

Having considered the evidence and arguments in this case, we conclude that the parties should adopt compromise wording to resolve both issues. With respect to the negotiation schedule, 3 weeks of unassisted negotiations and, upon mutual agreement of the parties, 1 additional week of bargaining should serve the interests of both the Union and the Employer. That is, a shorter schedule would not only tend to keep costs down during a period of fiscal restraint, but also help maintain the essential momentum of negotiations. Further, should more than 3 weeks of negotiations be needed, the parties would be able to extend bargaining for a period of time that is not unduly long.

As to the question of payment of travel and per diem expenses, the Employer should pay 50 percent of such expenses incurred by one field office employee on the Union's bargaining team who is to be on official time during negotiations. We are convinced that it is desirable to have field office employees represented on the Union's bargaining team, given that a significant portion of the bargaining unit is stationed in field offices throughout the region. Adoption of compromise wording, therefore, would ensure the participation of at least one person from a field office at the bargaining table. Furthermore, in view of the shorter negotiation schedule which the parties are to adopt, the compromise wording provides for a reasonable sharing of expenses in the circumstances of this case. case.

With respect to the Employer's argument that it cannot obligate funds it does not have to pay the travel and per diem expenses for any member of the Union's bargaining team on official time, we find this claim to be without merit inasmuch as on November 5, 1990, the President signed into law the appropriations bills for all Federal agencies for fiscal year 1991. Therefore, the Employer now should have the necessary flexibility with respect to the available financial resources to pay the travel and per diem expenses as ordered herein.

ORDER

Pursuant to the authority vested in it by section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted pursuant to section 2471.6(a)(2) of the Panel's regulations, the Federal Service Impasses Panel under section 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following:

1. Negotiation Schedule

The parties shall have 3 weeks of unassisted negotiations. Upon mutual agreement, bargaining may he extended for a