DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS and LOCAL R1-32, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS )
VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER )
BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS )
and ) Case Nos. 91 FSIP 190 and
) 92 FSIP 74
LOCAL R1-32, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION )
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, )
Local R1-32, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, AFL-CIO (Union) filed requests for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider negotiation impasses under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. S 7119, between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bedford, Massachusetts (Employer).
After investigation of the requests for assistance, the Panel
consolidated the cases and directed the parties to participate in a telephone informal conference with Staff Associate Ellen J. Kolansky for the purpose of resolving the disputes concerning compressed work schedules (CWS). The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mrs. Kolansky was to notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the matter. 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 spoke with the parties on March 24, 1992. During the call, the parties reached agreement on one issue, but two others were not resolved. She reported to the Panel on the dispute based on the record developed by the parties, including their written statements of position. The Panel has now considered the entire record, including her recommendations for settlement.
The Employer provides medical care to veterans. The Union represents approximately 1,000 employees, part of a 10,000-member, nationwide consolidated unit, who work in a broad range of support positions throughout the hospital. The parties' local agreement
expired in 1990; a successor master collective-bargaining agreement currently is in the process of being implemented.
All eight employees who will be affected by the outcome of the
dispute work in the Department of Engineering. Currently, the department permits employees in other sub-areas to work flexitime or CWS hours. Case No. 91 FSIP 190 concerns schedules in the Construction Management Section for two engineers and two technicians who work regular hours. These employees monitor the progress of costly maintenance and renovation contracts performed by outside contractors. Case No. 92 FSIP 74 concerns schedules in the boiler plant that provides heat and hot water to the hospital complex. Six GS-11 boiler plant operators work three 8-hour shifts so that the boilers can be monitored around the clock. Besides such monitoring, at least two operators are scheduled on the daytime shift, Monday through Friday, so that repairs and routine maintenance may be performed by one man while a second conducts the monitoring. Generally, the other two daily shifts and weekend shifts are performed by a single employee. Two relief men who fill in during vacation periods are granted many 3-day weekends during the year, and, thus, do not want to be considered for CWS. Staffing is thin in the boiler room which had a 7- to 9-man crew during fiscal 1988, although utility system repair operators are authorized to assist at the boiler plant in emergencies.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The dispute concerns whether employees who work in two sections of the Department of Engineering should be permitted to work a CWS.
1. The Union's Position
In the Construction Management Section, the Union proposes that the four employees be permitted to try a 5-4/9 CWS1/ for 3 months. In the boiler room, it proposes that a short trial of a 54/9 or 4-102/ CWS be permitted for four of the six boiler room operators. Under this proposal, the Employer would: (1) retain the right to suspend such schedules for emergencies, critical maintenance, and staffing shortages; (2) determine the length of the CWS trial period; and (3) approve employees' participation in such schedules. The Union asserts that employees who work in similar jobs elsewhere, including engineers and engineering1/ Under a 5-4/9 CWS, employees would work eight 9-hour days, one 8-hour day and be off 1 day during the 2-week pay period.
2/ Under a 4-10 CWS, employees would work eight 10-hour days and be
off 2 days during the 2-week pay period.
technicians within the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), are permitted such schedules. Without a short trial, which it predicts would cause little if any harm, there is no basis for the Employer's rejection of CWS for these employees. Furthermore, employees' morale, family life, and commuting times would all be improved under a CWS.
2. The Employer's Position
The Employer essentially proposes that the Panel order the Union to withdraw its proposal on CWS in both cases. In the Construction Management Section, it argues that because its staffing is thin, such schedules would divert both the supervisor's and coworker's attention from multimillion dollar and other assigned projects to cover smaller, often less significant projects
for employees away on off days. This would add to existing burdens stemming from covering for others during periods of earned leave usage. In the boiler plant, long hours plus the potential for double shifts should an employee fail to arrive for the next shift, might result in slowed reaction times to emergency situations, thereby creating the potential for harm to both life and property. In addition, it is unaware of any CWS schedule in this round-the-clock operation that would not result in personnel overlap during shifts. Moreover, it would have to compensate the extra man at premium rates for work performed during evening and weekend hours despite the fact that it required only one person on such shifts.
After considering the evidence and arguments presented, we shall order the Union to withdraw its proposals. In our view, the Employer raises significant concerns about the use of such schedules when its staff is small, and coverage for absent employees is limited. In the Construction Management Section, employees monitor costly work projects that ultimately may affect patient care (e.g., power outages, loss of telephone, heating, cooling, and electrical service). The introduction of a CWS would distract the supervisor and other employees from regularly assigned work while they filled in for employees away on off days. When combined with other absences, the frequency of such disruptions might hamper employees' ability to cover adequately- all assignments. In the boiler plant, we are persuaded that responses to problems such as equipment malfunctions and drops in water pressure, require a level of alertness that could be compromised by overly-long shifts, or even double shifts if an employee failed to report for a later shift. While we acknowledge the positive aspects of a CWS on family life, commuting times, and morale, as discussed above, we believe that a CWS would not be appropriate for these
thinly-staffed work areas, and in the cas