DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VETERANS AFFAIRS REGIONAL OFFICE WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA and LOCAL 2880, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
In the Matter of )
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS )
VETERANS AFFAIRS REGIONAL OFFICE )
WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA )
and ) Case No. 91 FSIP 97
LOCAL 2880, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF )
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO )
Local 2880, 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 Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Regional Office, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Employer).
After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel
determined that the impasse concerning flexible work schedules and a telephone for the Union office1/ should be resolved through written submissions from the parties, with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure and the Panel has now considered the entire record.2/
1/ During a conference call with the parties on February 21, 1992, they confirmed that a settlement had been reached on the issue of a telephone for the Union office.
2/ The Union did not submit a rebuttal statement.
The Employer provides benefits and services to veterans, and their dependents and beneficiaries such as loan guarantees for homes and financial assistance for education; it also adjudicates disability claims and responds to public inquiries concerning the status of claims. The Union represents approximately 200 employees who are part of a nationwide consolidated bargaining unit; they hold positions such as rating specialist, claims examiner, loan and realty specialist, typist, stenographer, file clerk, and contact representative. The parties abide by a master collective-bargaining agreement between the Veterans Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees which was to expire in 1985, but has been extended with certain supplementary provisions.
This dispute arose during negotiations over a local supplemental agreement. By way of background, the Regional Office is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Currently, employees typically work fixed hours from 8 a.m. to either 4:30 or 4:45 p.m., depending upon whether they choose to take a 30- or 45-minute lunch break
The parties disagree over whether flexible workhours for employees should be limited to a flexitour schedule.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union's Position
In essence, the Union proposes: (1) All employees be give the option of working a flexitime schedule with starting times from 7 to 9 a.m.; (2) Some may be required to work a flexitour schedule wherein they must select a fixed starting time between 7:15 and 8:45 a.m. Employees on a flexitour schedule would be given 15 minutes of flexibility on either side of their selected arrival time; they could request a modification of their starting time after working 2 pay periods under a particular staring time, or sooner, if there were a compelling personal hardship and the Employer's needs could be met; (3) When an assignment involving an individual not employed by the agency requires an employee's attendance during hours outside his or her flexible work schedule, the Employer could modify the employee's work schedule to ensure the employee's availability for the assignment; (4) Employees working a flexitime schedule would record their arrival and departure times on a sign in/out sheet; (5) Parties would meet
at least every 6 months to discuss problems/successes associated with flexible work schedules; parties would exchange statistical data collected as they become available to ensure meaningful discussions at the meetings; and (6) Conflicts arising among employees as to who could select a specific tour of duty to be decided on the basis of seniority.
The Union contends that its proposal allows the Employer to determine which employees must work a flexitour schedule which has a narrower permissible time for reporting to duty than a flexitime schedule. Thus, the Employer would be given a significant amount of control over the scheduling of employee workhours to ensure that there is enough staff available to cover the work in the office during the busiest times of the day. It would prohibit employees working a flexitour schedule from changing their starting times at will, thereby giving some stability to scheduling. Also, the provision for resolving workhour disputes would help ensure that they are handled initially at the lowest levels; moreover, semi-annual meetings concerning workhours should tend to ameliorate problems before they become insurmountable. The sign in/out procedure would give the Employer an opportunity to monitor workhours to determine if tardiness problems exist. As to comparability, the Union maintains that flexitime schedules have worked well in Social Security Administration District Offices where employees have a significant amount of contact with the public both by telephone and in person, as do many Regional Office employees. Finally, employees on a flexitime or flexitour schedule, who are on duty when the office is closed to the public, could use that time to process the paperwork associated with telephonic or face-to-face interviews which is not finished during the interview.
2. The Employer's Position
The Employer proposes, essentially: (1) Eligible employees would be permitted to work a modified flexitour schedule consistent with agency regulations; that is, with supervisory approval, they may start at either 7:45 a.m., with a 45-minute lunch break, or 8 a.m., with a: 30- or 45-minute lunch break; the employee would have 15 minutes of flexibility on either side of the selected arrival time to report for duty. Once established, the selected tour would remain in effect for at least 1 year and could be changed only on the anniversary date of the employee's original election. Ninety-seven of the approximately 200 employees in the bargaining unit would be excluded from taking part in the modified flexitour plan, primarily those who have significant interface with the public or are in one-deep positions: (2) The Employer would be permitted to modify an employee's work schedule to ensure that the employee could accomplish work assignments which may be outside the employee's usual workhours; (3) Those who hold positions as veterans benefits counselors at the VA medical centers in the region would observe the office hours prescribed by the director of the medical center; (4) Employees working a flexitour schedule would be required to use electromechanical devices, e.g., time clocks, to document their attendance at work; (5) The flexitour policy would be reviewed 3 months and then 6 months after implementation, and annually thereafter. If any changes in working conditions are needed as a result of the review, the Employer would discuss its decisions with the Union prior to implementation; and (6) Conflicts among employees over the selection of tours of duty would be resolved by the particular division chief based upon workload, staffing needs, and ability to serve veterans. The Employer argues that its proposal is consistent with an agency
regulation dated May 1, 1985, negotiated by the parties at the national level, which provides in MP-5, Part I, Chapter 610, section B, paragraph 6(b)(1) that "(t)he establishment of flexible tours of duty is limited to the flexitour and the modified flexitour, as defined in paragraph 3g and h."3/ Its proposed workhours schedule represents somewhat of an improvement over the current one in terms of permitting more employee flexibility. Only moderate flexibility in workhours is provided because it is important to ensure that employees are on duty during more of the time the office is open to the public (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), as well as during peak hours of operation (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Thus, 3/ Paragraph 3g defines "flexitour" as "a flexible schedule in which an employee, having once selected starting and stopping times within the flexible time band, continues to adhere to these times."
Paragraph 3h defines "modified flexitour" as "a type of flexitime
where the employee selects a starting time within the established
flexible time band and, once selected, this becomes the employee's
assigned schedule. The employee, however, is given 15 minutes of flexibility on either side of the selected arrival time. The actual
time of arrival becomes the employee's starting time for that day."
service to the public should not be jeopardized. Since some employees are required to have interface with parties outside the agency, such as banks, educational institutions, attorneys, real estate practitioners, and clerks of courts, who generally are not available at 7 a.m. (the earliest starting time proposed by the Union), the later starting times proposed by the Employer would enable employees to be on duty during workhours commensurate with those of outside parties.
Since the security guard was removed from the Regional Office
recently, allowing employees to stay in the building for a shorter period of time than that proposed by the Union may help reduce the potential for security problems. Also, because the General Services Administration has determined to close the building at 5 p.m., effective March 16, 1992, the proposal would ensure that all employees are off duty, and presumably out of the building, prior to that time.
After having considered the parties' proposals and arguments in support thereof, we find that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of a compromise solution. In this regard, the parties should adopt the Union's proposal with the following modifications: (1) Restrict employees working flexitime to an arrival time between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.; (2) Restrict flexitour scheduling to fixed times during that l-hour period, with the earliest starting time of 7:45 a.m. and the latest 8:15 a.m.; 15 minutes of flexibility is permitted on either side of the arrival time; and (3) Extend the sign in/out requirement to employees who work flexitour as well as
flexitime. Also, the parties should adopt that portion of the Employer's proposal which would permit the directors of the medical centers to establish the hours of work for veterans benefits counselors assigned to those facilities.
We find that this compromise adequately addresses both parties' primary concerns, that is, it provides employees with more latitude in establishing their work schedules, while the narrower timeband during which employees may start work tends to ensure that employees are more likely to be available to provide service to the public and have interface with other parties during the peak operating hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Moreover, it would ensure that no employee is working beyond 5 p.m. when the building closes.
Essentially, this approach is an incremental step in providing greater flexibility in workhours over the current practice which requires all employees to start work at 8 a.m. It does, however, provide the Employer with a significant amount of control in determining workhours because it permits the Employer to decide which employees must work the more restrictive flexitour schedule. While noting the existence of the agency regulation which limits work schedules to either a flexitour or a modified flexitour plan, the Employer failed to raise a compelling need argument for the regulation;&/ thus, the Panel is not limited by its terms. Providing a sign in/out procedure for monitoring all employees who work flexible schedules is fairer, rather t