DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT and LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL



In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS )

VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER )

NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT )

)

and ) Case Nos. 91 FSIP 217,

) 91 FSIP 243, and

LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION ) 91 FSIP 259

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES )

)



DECISION AND ORDER



Local R1-109, National Association of Government Employees (Union), filed three requests for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider negotiation impasses under section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute) between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Newington, Connecticut (Employer).



Following investigation of the requests for assistance, the Panel consolidated the cases and directed the parties to attempt to resolve the impasses concerning use of the external mail system, parking, undesirable tours of duty in the hematology laboratory, and mid-term groundrules through an informal conference with a Panel representative. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, the Panel's representative would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties'final offers, and make recommendations for resolving the issues. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.



On October 10 and 11, 1991, Staff Associate Ellen J. Kolansky met with the parties in Newington, Connecticut, during which four of the six issues were resolved or withdrawn, resulting in the settlement of Case No. 91 FSIP 217; two issues remain for Panel cons; consideration.



BACKGROUND



The Employer, specializing in geriatrics and oncology, provides both inpatient and outpatient care to veterans. The Union represents approximately 300 employees who work as laboratory technicians, clerks, nurses' helpers, and in the commissary. The master agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Association of Government Employees expired in October

1990. Its successor is currently pending before the Panel, the subject of a separate request for assistance. Locally, the parties engage in rolling negotiations.



ISSUES AT IMPASSE



The two remaining issues are: (1) whether the Union should be permitted to use the Employer's mail system for representational purposes, including such services as overnight delivery and franked envelopes, all at the Employer's expense (Case No. 91 FSIP 243), and (2) the location of two reserved parking spaces for the Union president and vice president and/or visitor (Case No. 91 FSIP 259).

Case No. 91 FSIP 243



POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES



1. Mail System



a. The Employer's Position



The Employer proposes that the parties maintain the status quo, i.e., that the Union continue to use only the internal mail system. As a preliminary question, it argues that the Union's proposal would conflict with its right to determine its budget by creating unavoidable increased costs. On the merits, its chief concerns are that such additional services would be expensive, hard to administer, especially handling receipts from certified mail, and might promote similar demands at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the nation, thereby escalating costs while depleting funds available for patient care.



b. The Union's Position



It proposes that:



The internal mail distribution service of the Employer shall be

available for reasonable use of the Union. The Union will have the

availability of mail services which includes the United States

mail, messenger service operated by the U.S. Postal Service, use of

United States mail under indicia and certified mail for representational purposes.



Addressing the Employer's budget argument, it cites a decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) which held that the employer had a duty to bargain over the Union's use of penalty mail

for representational purposes.1 Substantively, the Union argues that it needs such support at a time when the costs associated with representing employees are rising yet few bargaining-unit employees pay dues. The Employer, it points out, does not operate under similar financial constraints. Over the 9-month period from January to September 1991, it spent approximately $206 on outside mail, indicating that any burden to the Employer would be de minimis.



CONCLUSION



With regard to the preliminary question that the Employer raises, in our view, the Union's proposal is substantively nearly identical to the one in Forest Service. Thus, we are persuaded that the matter is appropriate for Panel jurisdiction under the FLRA's decision in Commander Carswell Air Force Base. Texas and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1364, 31 FLRA 620 (1988). In addition, although the employer in Forest Service challenged the negotiability of the proposal on different grounds from those alleged in the instant case, we are not persuaded that this difference affects our application of FLRA precedent in this.



As to the merits of the case, having considered the arguments and evidence, we believe that the parties should adopt the Employer's proposal that the status quo be maintained. We do not find that the Union has demonstrated a need for such additional support. In this regard, the record indicates that the Union currently appears able to handle its modest outside mailing expenditures. Furthermore, its provision appears to involve administrative difficulties. For example, the Union does not provide methods in its proposal for preventing possible misrouting

1 National Federation of Federal Employees and U.S./Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (Forest Service), 35 FLRA 1008 (1990). In that case, "Penalty mail" is defined as "official mail of officers of the U.S. Government which is authorized to be mailed and is actually mailed without prepayment of postage."



2 See Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Lower Colorado Reqion. Yuma. Arizona and National Federation of Federal Employees. Local 1487, 41 FLRA No. 1, (June 4, 1991) Report No. 701, where the FLRA held that when a "new" ground is raised regarding the negotiability of a proposal that it already considered under a negotiability appeal, "the fact that the agency's arguments may differ from those previously considered will not, standing alone, compel a conclusion that the arbitrator improperly resolved a negotiability dispute." Permitting such "new" arguments, without other factors, to call into question the Negotiability of a substantively similar proposal, in the FLRA's View, would "undermine the collective bargaining process." Id p.ll.

of return receipts from certified mail or other mix-ups. In a

labor-management relations system where deadlines and return receipts can affect the parties' rights, such gaps are worrisome.



Case No. 91 FSIP 259



2. Parking



a. The Employer's Position



The Employer proposes that two reserved parking spaces for the

Union's president and chief steward/visitor be located in Lot 4.

That lot is located downhill in the rear of the medical center behind a maintenance building. It also would negotiate with the

Union over future changes upon request. In its view, Lot 4 is an appropriate location. Currently, the hospital director, associate

director, and chief of staff park there.



b. The Union's Position



It proposes that it be given two reserved spaces in Lot 6. In

support, it asserts that this location makes the most sense since

it is closest to the Union's office and would make the Union president's daily comings and goings, often entailing the carrying

of books and papers, more efficient. It does not understand the Employer's basis for insisting that it park in Lot 4 which is considerably farther from its office. Furthermore, when repaving projects are completed adequate parking will exist for all employees. Finally, although spaces currently are reserved in Lot

6 for credit union customers (3 spaces limited to 15 minutes' use),

handicapped employees (4 to 6 spaces), the VA van, and, shortly,

hospital volunteers (6 spaces), another 2 from a total of 180 spaces should not cause any problems.



CONCLUSIONS



On balance, we are persuaded that the parties should adopt the

Union's proposal on parking. While there may be somewhat fewer reserved spaces in Lot 4 than in Lot 6, we believe that the parties' interests in cooperative labor-management relations will

be better served by permitting the Union to have access to Lot 6 which is closer to its office. Furthermore, the Employer presents

little if any evidence to justify a different conclusion, especially considering that there will soon be sufficient parking

for all employees, patients, and visitors at the facility.



ORDER



Pursuant to the authority vested in it by section 7119 of the

Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and because of

the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under section 2471.6(a)(2) of the

Panel's regulations, the Federal Service Impasses Panel under section 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following:



Case No. 91 FSIP 243



1. Mail System



The Parties shall adopt the Employer's proposal.



Case No. 91 FSIP 259



2. Parking



The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal.



By direction of the Panel.<