DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE PLUM ISLAND ANIMAL DISEASE CENTER GREENPORT, NEW YORK and LOCAL 1940, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL







In the Matter of )

)

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE )

AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SERVICE )

PLUM ISLAND ANIMAL DISEASE )

CENTER )

GREENPORT, NEW YORK )

)

and) Case No. 91 FSIP 198

)

)

LOCAL 1940, AMERICAN )

FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT )

EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO )

)

)



DECISION AND ORDER



The Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Greenport, New York (Employer), 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 Local 1940, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union).



The Panel determined that the impasse, which concerns competitive areas and the timing of a reduction in force (RIF), should be resolved through written submissions from the parties, with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to

resolve the dispute. Submissions were made pursuant to these procedures, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.



BACKGROUND



The Employer's mission is to conduct research to protect animal commodities against catastrophic economic losses caused by foreign animal disease agents. The bargaining unit consists of approximately 120 employees who work in a variety of administrative and skilled-trade occupations. The parties' collective-bargaining

agreement expired on May 31, 1991, but remains in effect at the present time.



This dispute arose as a result of the Employer's decision to contract out the work performed by bargaining-unit employees at Plum Island. All administrative appeals in connection with this decision were exhausted by May 1991. Accordingly, it is now necessary for the Employer to conduct a RIF at the installation.



ISSUES AT IMPASSE



The parties are at impasse over whether (1) the competitive area1 which will be used in conducting the RIF should be expanded, and (2) the RIF delayed.



1. Competitive Area



a. The Union's Position



The Union proposes that the competitive area be expanded to include both Plum Island and the Employer's facility at Ithaca, New York. The Union maintains that an expanded competitive area is necessary in order to maximize employment opportunities for senior bargaining-unit employees. While it concedes that most of the affected employees will probably be offered positions with the contractor, it argues that continued Federal employment is preferable because senior employees would retain the benefits which they have accrued during their years of Federal service. The Union contends that retention of senior employees in Government occupations would reduce the total cost of severance pay to the Employer and is consistent with existing OPM regulations.



b. The Employer's Position



The Employer proposes that the status quo be maintained, i.e.,that the competitive area be defined as the local commuting area. It argues that expansion of the competitive area to include its Ithaca facility would result in only a very small number of opportunities being created for senior Plum Island employees; in this regard, it notes that only five employees would be eligible to bump or retreat into positions at Ithaca. According to the Employer, the Union's proposal would not only be unfair to the employees at the Ithaca facility (which was proposed because it is

non-Union), but would require the payment of relocation expenses for those employees accepting transfers. The Employer further contends that allowing bargaining-unit employees to bump and retreat into positions at Ithaca would have a disruptive effect, as Plum Island employees would require "substantial" training to become familiar with their new occupations. Moreover, expansion of the competitive area would conflict with the Employer's policy at its other facilities, and adoption of an enlarged area at one location could create "pressure to expand the area in all cases."

Finally, the Employer notes that employees will have the right of



1 A competitive area is the geographical and organizational limit within which employees compete for job retention. First refusal with the contractor and emphasizes that the results of an

informal survey reveal that many employees would oppose a trans fer.



CONCLUSIONS



Having examined the evidence and arguments on this issue, we

conclude that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of the

Employer's proposal. While we continue to accept, as a general principle, the idea that senior employees should be retained during periods of reduced operations, in our view, the limited number of opportunities which would be created by an expanded competitive area in this case are outweighed by the costs, disruption, and administrative burdens involved. Although the Union's proposal may result in a reduction in the total cost of severance pay to the Employer, those benefits are likely to be offset by the costs of relocating employees as well as the administrative costs of conducting a RIF at Ithaca.



Aside from those aspects already discussed concerning the Union's proposal, we believe that the Union has failed to demonstrate that expansion of the competitive area is necessary. In this regard, it is uncontested that bargaining-unit employees have been guaranteed the right of first refusal of jobs with the private contractor; under this arrangement, the contractor has promised to fill approximately 100 positions. Others have already found other employment since they were apprised of the decision to contract out the work.



The Union's proposal is also deficient when examined in terms of its impact on Ithaca employees, with whom Plum Island employees, heretofore, have had no community of interest. Ithaca employees have had relatively little opportunity to compete for promotions at Plum Island because of the divergent nature of the work performed at the two facilities. A proposed change in competitive areas at a time when a RIF is imminent, particularly where there has been little or no overlap between the two facilities in the past, seems to us to be unfair.



2. Delay of the RIF



a. The Union's Position



The Union proposes that the RIF not be implemented until January 30, 1992. According to the Union, this delay would give bargaining-unit employees "a reasonable amount of time to seek employment in other [F]ederal agencies;" in its view, continued Federal employment would allow employees to retain a level of wages and benefits which cannot be matched by the contractor. The Union reiterates that retention of career employees by the Federal Government should result in savings on the total cost of severance pay as well as lower training costs to the agencies which eventually hire the displaced workers.



b. The Employer's Position



The Employer proposes that the Union be ordered to withdraw its proposal so that the RIF can be conducted as soon as the appropriate notice is given to employees .2 According to the Employer, further delay would continue to have an adverse financial effect on the contractor. In this regard, it notes that the contractor has hired a management team in anticipation of its operation of the facility and is currently paying salaries to these individuals in order to retain them. Adoption of the Union's proposal could result in the contractor withdrawing, thereby necessitating a new competitive bidding process; this would further delay implementation until mid to late 1992. Moreover, delaying the RIF until January 30, 1992, would have a negative impact on the Employer's ability to carry out its mission safely. In this regard, the Employer argues that employees will continue to resign over the next few months and stresses that finding qualified short-term replacements would be very~difficult. Finally, the Employer points out that further delay would increase the cost of the RIF to the agency; if it is not conducted until late January 1992, the new General Schedule (GS) pay increases will be in effect adding an additional increase to the cost of severance and lump-sum leave payout for GS employees.



CONCLUSIONS



Having examined the evidence and arguments on this issue, we again conclude that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of the Employer's proposal. In this regard, we believe that delaying

implementation of the RIF will not guarantee that any additional bargaining-unit employees will obtain other Federal employment. Even if delaying the RIF would allow some employees to find new jobs in the Federal sector, it is our opinion that this benefit would be outweighed by the increased costs to both the Employer and the contractor. Moreover, we agree that further delay of the RIF may impede the agency's ability to carry out its mission safely over the next few months and to transfer control of the operation to the contractor in an orderly fashion. Accordingly, we shall order the Union to withdraw its proposal on this issue.



2 Current OPM regulations require agencies to provide employees with written notice at least 30 full days before the effective date of their release. When a general notice is supplemented by a specific notice, an agency may not release an employee until at least 10 days after the employee's receipt of the specific notice. See 5 C.F.R. S§ 351.801-.807 (1991),



ORDER



Pursuant to the authority vested in it by section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Stat