DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, NEW JERSEY and LOCAL 1778, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
In the Matter of )
DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE )
McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE )
McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, NEW JERSEY )
and ) Case No. 91 FSIP 30
LOCAL 1778, AMERICAN FEDERATION )
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO )
Local 1778, 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 the Air Force, McGuire Air Force Base, McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey (Employer).
The Panel determined that the case should be resolved through an informal conference between the parties and Staff Associate Harry E. Jones. If there were no settlement, Mr. Jones was to notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and his recommendations for resolving the matter. Following consideration of this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse.
Mr. Jones met with the parties on February 21 and 22, 1991, in Washington, D.C. During those meetings, the parties were able to reach agreement on all but one of the outstanding issues; the remaining issue concerns sick leave. Mr. Jones has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.
The Employer is an Air Force base involved primarily in the shipment of air cargo and the maintenance of cargo aircraft. In this regard, it was involved heavily in the movement of supplies,
mail, and other goods to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm. The bargaining unit consists of approximately 1,100 employees who work in a wide variety of administrative and technical occupations. The parties are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement which is due to expire on July 31, 1992. The instant impasse arose as a result of negotiations pursuant to an annual reopener in the current contract.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties are at impasse over the procedure to be followed by employees when they call in to request sick leave.
a. The Union's Position
The Union proposes that Article 38, Section 8.C., of the collective-bargaining agreement be modified to read as follows:
Employees who are incapacitated due to illness or injury, or an immediate family member, will contact their work section as soon as
possible but not later than two (2) hours after the beginning of the work shift.
This wording would allow an employee to "report off sick" to anyone who answers the telephone in his or her work section. It would relieve employees of the responsibility for contacting their immediate supervisors to request sick leave, thereby allowing them to use an earned benefit without being subjected to "cross examination." The Union stresses that the wording in the current agreement, which requires employees to contact their supervisors, is overly burdensome; that is, supervisors are often unavailable at the beginning of a shift,. thereby requiring employees to make several calls (in many instances at long-distance rates) before reaching them. Wording similar to that proposed by the Union was contained in the parties' prior (1984) agreement, and its implementation did not result in any administrative difficulties; in fact, some shops at the installation continue to operate in accordance with the prior contract provision. Finally, its proposal
could have a positive impact on morale as it displays a higher level of trust and confidence in bargaining-unit employees.
The Employer's proposal, on the other hand, does not adequately address the problem of supervisors not being available at the beginning of a shift. Even though the Employer has indicated that an employee should ask to have the call transferred to a higher level management official when his or her immediate supervisor is unavailable, that interpretation does not specify where the employee's request should be directed. Furthermore, the current wording which allows supervisors the discretion to require employees to provide a "daily report" during periods of extended illness should not be retained. In this regard, it has led to disparate treatment of similarly-situated employees and has led some to feel pressured into returning to work before they are able.
b. The Employer's Position
The Employer proposes that the existing wording of Article 38,
Section 8.C., be maintained. That section currently reads as follows:
Employees who are incapacitated due to illness or injury, or an immediate family member, will contact their supervisor with the leave request as soon as possible but not later than two (2) hours after the beginning of the work shift. When an employee's incapacitation will require him or her to be absent longer than one (1) workday, he or she will so notify the supervisor. In such instances, the employee need not notify the supervisor each workday, provided the employee gave the supervisor a date of expected return to duty and was expressly relieved of such requirement by the supervisor. Absences beyond the expected return to duty date require further notification.
Its proposal is preferable because prior supervisory approval of sick leave would help curb abuse. It avoids the problem of supervisors' not receiving "report-off" messages, thereby minimizing disputes over the status of absent employees. The retention of the current wording which outlines employees' responsibilities in instances of extended illness also is reasonable, as it allows for more efficient planning of work schedules by supervisors. Finally, the Employer notes that by interpreting "supervisor" to mean "management official in the chain of command," its proposal addresses the problem of "repetitive calling" raised by the Union.
In contrast, the Union's proposal is inadequate because it would allow employees to use sick leave at their own discretion, thereby increasing the likelihood of abuse. Its adoption would also create the same administrative difficulties that occurred under the 1984 agreement. That is, often times supervisors would not receive "report-off" messages and would place employees in AWOL status, thereby causing disputes over the status of employees who had allegedly "reported off sick." Moreover, deletion of the existing wording concerning extended illness could result in "open-ended" sick leave usage; this, in turn, could negatively affect planning and productivity. Overall, the Union's proposal is too lenient and fails to consider the installation's mission requirements.
Having considered the evidence and arguments in this case, we shall order that the dispute be resolved on the basis of the Employer's proposal. In this regard, we are persuaded that the existing wording, which requires prior supervisory approval of sick leave requests, is necessary to help prevent abuse. In reaching this conclusion, we are mindful of the Union's concern that supervisors are often unavailable at the beginning of a shift and that "repetitive calling" by employees may be both necessary and burdensome. This problem, however, should be remedied by the Employer's commitment to interpret "supervisor" as "management official in the chain of command." Thus, only one telephone call should be necessary for an employee to obtain approval or disapproval of a sick leave request. Moreover, direct contact with a management official is both reasonable and appears warranted, given the administrative difficulties which developed under the 1984 agreement. Finally, the existing