DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION LANSING DISTRICT OFFICE LANSING, MICHIGAN and LOCAL 3272, COUNCIL 220, 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 HUMAN SERVICES

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

LANSING DISTRICT OFFICE

LANSING, MICHIGAN

and

LOCAL 3272, COUNCIL 220,

AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 90 FSIP 221

DECISION AND ORDER

Local 3272, Council 220, 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 Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Lansing District Office, Lansing, Michigan (Employer).

After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to have a telephone conference with Staff Associate Gladys M. Hernandez for the purpose of resolving 12 issues at impasse related to the Employer's reduction in field representative (FAR) positions from 2 to 1. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Ms. Hernandez would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers, and her recommendations for resolving the issues. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate including the issuance of a binding decision.

Ms. Hernandez held telephone conferences with the parties on April 16 and 18, 1991. With her assistance, the parties resolved 7 of the 12 outstanding issues.(1) Ms. Hernandez has reported on The remaining issues based on the record developed by the parties. The Panel now has considered the entire record in the case.

BACKGROUND

The Employer processes and administers claims for disability, retirement, survivors, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income benefits. The Union represents 38 General Schedule employees at the Lansing District Office, who are part of a nationwide consolidated bargaining unit of approximately 48,200. Employees hold positions as field, claims, and service representative, service representative-data review technician, receptionist, and claims clerk. The parties are covered by a national labor agreement which expires in January 1993. The dispute arose during impact-and-implementation bargaining over the Employer's reduction in FR positions and resulting reassignment of an FR to a claims representative (CR) position, and assignment of contact-station(2) and other FR-type duties to CRs, pursuant to a settlement of a Union-filed unfair labor practice charge.(3) Only the CRs, and possibly the one remaining FR, will be directly affected by the outcome in this case.(4)

ISSUES

The five unresolved issues relate to the assignment of CRs tocontact-station duty. These issues are: (1) the selection criteria for contact-station duty; (2) the procedure for assignment to contact-station duty; (3) the adjustment of workload; (4) instruction on employees' rights and responsibilities when using personally-owned vehicles for Government business; and (5) automobile safely.

1. Selection Criteria for Contact-Station Duty

    a. The Union's Position

Under its proposal, the Employer would provide the Union, upon request, with the criteria used to identify employees qualified for contact-station or other FR-type duties. This would allow the Union to learn the basis for such determination, particularly in those cases where the qualification criteria are, for example, unwritten and, therefore, unavailable under § 7114(b)(4) of the Statute. Without knowledge of the qualification criteria, it would be unable to determine whether the Employer is applying them fairly and equitably to all employees. The Employer's proposal to provide the Union with its "rationale" for determining that an employee is qualified for assignment to contact-station or other FR-type duty is unacceptable because it "would not afford the [U]nion the information it needs." In this regard, a "rationale" could be "vague, arbitrary and evasive." It could be a simple statement that an employee is "not skilled enough." In comparison, criteria are "more definite and final."

    b. The Employer's Position

It proposes that the status quo be maintained, that is, there would be no dissemination of qualification standards for assignment to contact-station or other FR-type duties. Supervisors therefore would continue to retain flexibility in the selection process. In this regard, it has never assigned an untrained or unqualified employee to perform FR duties. Moreover, since the qualifications of employees assigned such duties have never been disputed by the parties, the Union has failed to show a need for its proposal. Nonetheless, earlier it was willing to provide the Union, upon request, with its reasons for selecting or not selecting an employee for assignment to contact-station or other FR-type duties.

CONCLUSIONS

After examining the parties' positions, we conclude that the Union's proposal provides an adequate resolution to the matter. In our view, the disclosure of the specific standards applied by the Employer in determining employees' qualification for contact-station duty would promote objectivity in the selection process, thereby protecting its integrity. Furthermore, it should foster career enhancement initiatives on the part of attentive bargaining unit employees. The Employer offered no credible argument why those standards should remain the privileged information of management.

 

2. Procedure for Assignment to Contact-Station Duty(5)

    a. The Union's Position

It proposes the following:

A. When conditions permit, volunteers from among those the Employer deems qualified will be scheduled for contact-station duty. When conditions do not permit the use of volunteers for contact-station duty, the pre-existing rotation schedule procedure will be used. The assignment of contact-station duty under either procedure will be fair and equitable. B. Non-contact station assignments normally performed by a field representative will be offered to volunteers, from among those the Employer deems qualified, in an equitable and operationally efficient manner. C. For the office's claims representatives, the provisions of section A. will be applied separately for each specialized (T-2, T-16) group.(6) Whether volunteers are assigned from one or both of these groups or from neither, the frequency of assignment from each group will be proportional to the ratio of the number of qualified claims representatives in the group to the total number of qualified claims representatives in the office.(7)

The parties' dispute over this issue centers on Section C, which it proposed "to resurrect the volunteer program. n Two problems arose with the Employer's straight volunteer system during the 6-month experiment. First, T-2 employees volunteered in greater numbers than T-16 employees, which resulted in a disproportionate distribution of work favoring T-16 employees. In this regard, T-2 employees interview claimants who come to the District office. Since their caseload is significantly affected by the number of interviews they conduct, they volunteered for contact-station duty to lessen their caseload. This increased the number of interviews which had to be handled by those of them who remained in the office. T-16 employees, on the other hand, are assigned cases through an alphabetical system. That is, they are assigned cases regardless of whether or not they remain at the office. Because their workload is not lessened by volunteering, they are less likely to do so. Second, as the experiment unfolded, T-2 employees began to "receive[] signals from their supervisors which discouraged them from volunteering." These two problems, the workload imbalance and the supervisory disapproval, discouraged employees from volunteering which, in effect, defeated the volunteer program. Section C would maintain an equal rate of contact-station assignments from each employee group regardless of whether employees volunteer or are involuntarily reassigned, which should encourage employees to volunteer. The Employer's Section 3, which "integrates] greater employee choice into the volunteer system," is acceptable as an addition to this proposal, but not in place of Section C.

    b. The Employers Position

It proposes the following:

1. The Employer agrees that, when conditions permit, volunteers will be scheduled for contact-station duty. When conditions do not permit the use of volunteers for contact-station duty, the Employer agrees to continue the contact-station rotation schedule for bargaining-unit employees. The Employer will consider individual employee circumstances in a fair and equitable manner in the contact-station rotation. 2. The Employer agrees that non-contact-station assignments normally performed by a field representative will be offered to volunteers from the bargaining-unit employees in an equitable and operationally efficient manner. 3. Employees who volunteer for assignments under this agreement may make their volunteering conditional based on their personal preference.

Even though the rotation system has proven successful for many years, it is willing to agree to a workable volunteer system. With the exception of Section C, the Union's proposal would be acceptable because it promotes the use of volunteers but allows for the equitable rotation of qualified employees when there is none. The Union's Section C is unacceptable because it would require: (1) renegotiating the procedure if the agency's current operations structure (dividing employees into claims specialty groups) is changed; (2) the Employer to maintain three separate rotation charts (straight rotation schedule, rotation chart of T-2 volunteers, and rotation chart of T-16 volunteers), which would be administratively cumbersome; and (3) assigning contact-station duty to a non-volunteer from one group when volunteers from the other are available. Its Section 3, on the other hand, would encourage those employees who want to volunteer for assignment to a contact-station, but do not want to go frequently, to do so.

CONCLUSIONS

We have considered the arguments presented and conclude that the Employer's proposed procedure is the better of the two. In this regard, the Employer has persuaded us that the Union's proposed Section C would be administratively burdensome while providing limited, if any, encouragement to employees to volunteer more than they have under the straight volunteer system. The Employer's Section 3, which would permit employees to place conditions, for example, length of time, on their volunteering, is just as likely to encourage volunteerism, but without unnecessarily burdening the Employer in the administration of the program. For these reasons, we shall order its adoption.

 

3. Adjustment of Workload

    a. The Union's Position

It proposes that employees on frequent contact-station or other FR-type assignments be allowed to request adjustment of their regular workload if they perceive an imbalance developing. If no adjustment is made, the Employer would advise employees of its reasons for not doing so within a 2-week period. This Proposal would provide some relief for employees whose regular workloads are being adversely affected by assignment to contact-station or other FR-type work. The 2-week time limit is necessary "to prevent an interminable wait for the adjustment or the response."

    b. The Employer's Position

It proposes that the Union be ordered to withdraw its proposal because it does not address an existing problem and, therefore, is unnecessary. Moreover, in practice, it always has been responsive to employees' concern over equity in assignment of workload.

CONCLUSIONS

We conclude that the parties should adopt the Union's proposal, but without the wording "perceives an imbalance developing in his/her workload." In our view, it is reasonable to require the Employer merely to consider employees' requests for adjustment of workload given the added duties which they have been asked to assume. Moreover, since the Employer argues that in the absence of a contractual requirement it nonetheless always has done so, the Union's proposal, in effect, simply reflects the status quo. With regard to the deleted wording, we believe it to be superfluous. 

 

4. Use of Personally-Owned Vehicles (POVs) for Government Business

    a. The Union's Position

Under its proposal, employees would be instructed on their "POV-use rights, duties, potential insurance concerns, and other potential liabilities, accident procedures, and other relevant POV-related matters" when they first volunteer to use their POVs. In doing so, the Employer would be required to cite to "applicable [Federal and state laws, Government wide regulations, department and agency instructions, and other relevant sources." Also, employees could request a "refresher" on these instructions if they determine it necessary. Finally, each time employees volunteer to use POVs, they would be given the instructions at the beginning of the new volunteer period, except if they already had been given within the preceding 12 months.

The intent of this proposal is to ensure that before employees agree to use their POVs for Government business, they are well informed of "the full implications" of doing so. For example, employees should be advised whether they are at "risk of increased insurance premiums, increased or otherwise altered accident liability, etc." It would not be "unreasonable or an excessive burden" for management to request the assistance of higher level agency officials or attorneys in gathering the stated information. The Employer would determine who presents the information to employees and how it is presented. Finally, while the Employer is not required to honor employees' requests for "refresher instructions," it would be expected to do so in nonfrivolous cases.

    b. The Employer's Position

It proposes to make a "good faith effort" to determine the employees' rights, duties, potential liabilities, accident procedure, and other matters which may be relevant to POV use, as well as to provide such information to employees who volunteer to use POVs. It agrees that employees should be informed of POV-use related matters when asked to volunteer the use of their POVs. The Union's "open-ended" proposal, however, "will require management to perform endless research into state and other laws]. n Experience dictates that no amount of research will ever be enough for the Union; therefore, a reasonable research standard is necessary.

CONCLUSIONS

We agree with the parties that to make an informed decision on whether to volunteer the use of their POVs for Government business, employees must know what rights, duties, and responsibilities are associated with such use. Neither party's proposal, however, provides an adequate resolution to the matter. The phrase "potential liabilities" found in both proposals, in our view, could be interpreted too broadly, so we will not order its adoption. In this regard, we find that it would be very burdensome for the Employer to have to anticipate what legal actions could be brought against employees. It is more important that they know what their rights are if such actions are brought.

While we find it inappropriate to dictate the standard which the Employer must follow in researching employee POV-use rights, duties, and responsibilities, for prudent reasons we shall order the Employer to elicit the advice or opinion of national-level agency officials in doing so. The involvement of a national-level official who is knowledgeable in this matter and may have ready access to the information to be provided, should (a) facilitate a thorough collection of the requisite information and (b) ensure its accuracy. Finally, the Employer shall be ordered to set forth the required information in writing because, in our view, this should facilitate its dissemination to employees. Copies also easily could be made available to them upon request.

 

5. Automobile Safety

    a. The Union's Position

Its proposal is the following:

In the event a bargaining-unit employee believes that the GFV (Government-furnished vehicle), POY, or other means of transportation the Employer has determined appropriate for Social Security Administration travel is unsafe, the employee has a right to decline to travel by such unsafe means if (s)he has a reasonable belief that, under the circumstances, such travel presents a danger that (1) is imminent, (2) poses a risk of death or serious bodily harm, and (3) cannot be abated through normal procedures. This provision applies also to circumstances of imminent danger due to weather conditions. [Emphasis added.]

This proposal, which is negotiable(8) will be triggered "in extremis situations" only. It notes that there are more employees traveling on Employer business and with greater frequency since the number of FR positions was reduced to one. Also, because the Employer does not have available a GFV for employees' use, they must travel, at times, in others' POVs, including that of the office manager, whose maintenance and safety records are unknown to them. Moreover, motor vehicle accidents are the principle cause of deaths on the job.(9) It is appropriate, therefore, to afford employees the "right of refusal" to travel in unsafe vehicles or weather conditions if specified conditions are met 80 that they can protect themselves from this danger. The contract does not give employees this right.

    b. The Employer's Position

Under its proposal, management would not require employees "to drive or ride in unsafe vehicles or travel during hazardous driving conditions."  This proposal expands on the employee protections provided under Article 8, § 5E., of the national agreement.(10) Moreover, it provides employees with greater protection because it does not require, as does the Union's proposal, that they be faced with an "imminent" danger to life or limb to be excused from traveling in unsafe vehicles or road conditions.

CONCLUSIONS

We find that the parties should adopt the Employer's proposal which is consistent with Article 8, § 5E. of the national agreement. This proposal, in our view, protects employees from harm while permitting the Employer, generally, to maintain the efficient operation of the agency, and, specifically, continue its outreach program to the community through the assignment of FR duties to CRs. In reaching this conclusion, we note that the Union did not argue or present evidence that, in the past, employees have been required to travel (1) in vehicles which they have reported as having mechanical problems or (2) under hazardous road conditions.

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 the 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:

1. Selection Criteria for Contact-Station Duty

The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal.

2. Procedure for Assignment to Contact-Station Duty

The parties shall adopt the Employer's proposal.

3. Adjustment of Workload

The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal modified as follows:

An employee on contact-station/field representative-type assignments may request an adjustment of his or her regular workload. If no adjustment is made, the employee will be advised of the reasons, normally within 2 weeks.

4. Use of POVs for Government Business

The parties shall adopt the following wording:

The Employer shall issue a memorandum which sets forth employees' rights, duties, and responsibilities, including insurance requirements and accident procedures, when using their POVs on official Government business. The Employer shall seek the advice of national-level agency personnel concerning applicable laws, rules, regulations, instructions, and/or directives, in preparing this memorandum. A copy of the memorandum shall be provided to employees who volunteer the use of their POVs for official Government business.

5. Automobile Safety

The parties shall adopt the Employer's proposal.

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda A. Lafferty

Executive Director

September 1, 1992

Washington, D.C.

1. Thereafter, the Panel received the request for assistance in Department of Health and Human Services. Social Security Administration, Field office Component, Baltimore, and Council 220 American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Case No. 91 FSIP 196 (June 1, 1992), Panel Release No. 331 (SSA. Baltimore), which concerned a national-level dispute over the procedures for noncompetitive reassignment of employees in field offices to different positions or locations and matters related thereto. The Panel determined to hold this case in abeyance pending resolution of SSA. Baltimore, reasoning that resolution of that national-level case could resolve some, if not all, of the remaining issues in this local-level case. Negotiations in SSA Baltimore now have been concluded. None of the remaining issues in this case, however. was resolved.

2. The Employer services three contact stations, which are offices in, for example, community centers in outlying areas of the Lansing District to which FRs or CRs go on a weekly or bi-monthly basis to assist those members of the public who wish to meet face to face with them, but are unable to travel the long distances to the District's office.

3. The ULP settlement provided that the parties would go to the table with the resulting agreement having retroactive application "to the extent possible."

4. The FR who was reassigned to a CR position has retired.

5. By way of background, the parties conducted an experiment with the Employer's proposal, which did not include its Section 3, from January through July 1990. 

6. T-2 employees are those who handle Title II (Old Age, Survivor, Disability, and Health Insurance) claims; T-16 employees process claims for benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI) program.

7.Section C. would work as follows: When the name of a T-2 group employee is reached on the current contact-station duty rotation roster, a volunteer from that group would be assigned contact-station duty. If there are no volunteers from that group, the named employee must perform such duty. The same procedure would be followed when a T-16 employee' B name is reached.

8. American Federation of Government Employees. AFL-CIO. Local 2052 and Department of Justice. Bureau of Prisons. Federal Correctional Institution. Petersburg. Virginia, 31 FLRA 529 (1988)(Proposal 3).

9.