DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES REGION V CHICAGO, ILLINOIS and CHAPTER 230, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL









In the Matter of )

)

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN )

SERVICES )

REGION V )

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS )

and ) Case No. 91 FSIP 245

)

)

CHAPTER 230, NATIONAL TREASURY )

EMPLOYEES UNION )

)



DECISION AND ORDER



Chapter 230, National Treasury Employees Union (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 Health and Human Services, Region V, Chicago, Illinois (DHHS or Employer). The Panel determined that the impasse, which arose after the permanent relocation of bargaining-unit employees from one building to another, 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, 1 of 10 regions within DHHS, provides a variety of programmatic services to state and local governments and grantees covering a 6-state area involving matters such as Social Security benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, and child welfare. It is located at the Regional Office building in Chicago, Illinois. The Union represents about 490 clerical and professional employees within Region V. The parties' national level multi regional collective-bargaining agreement expires in February 1994.



The issues at impasse affect approximately 130 bargaining-unit employees, all of whom are located at the Social Security Administration's Program Service Center (PSC) building, which is about 6 blocks from the Regional Office building.1/



ISSUES AT IMPASSE



The parties are at impasse over whether to: (1) establish a permanent satellite office for the Union at the PSC building; (2) permit employees to use coffeemakers and refrigerators at the building; and (3) restore a breakroom on the third floor of the building.



1. Permanent Satellite Union Office



a. The Union's Position



The Union proposes that it be provided with "a permanent satellite Union office with a desk, two chairs, a lockable filing cabinet, and telephone to allow for conduct of Union business" in the PSC building. The existing system of assigning space makes it a 'vagabond" dependent on the Employer's whims. It was agreed to at a time when the parties "mutually understood that the bargaining-unit employees would only be temporarily assigned" to the PSC building. It now seeks permanent space consistent with the permanent assignment of the employees it represents.



The increased size of the unit housed at the facility is likely to cause an increase in the Union's representational activities. A permanent office would eliminate the need for management to search for available space on a case-by-case basis, and allow employees "confidential access to the Union." Moreover, the distance "of approximately 1 mile through the notoriously windy

and cold streets of Chicago" to the Union's permanent office in the Regional Office building "greatly diminishes its accessibility." Under its proposal, the Employer would suffer "no disruption or financial cost" since empty permanent offices are already available "due to the shrinking of the agency during the 1980's." This is confirmed by the affidavit submitted by its executive vice president. On the other hand, the floorplan submitted by the Employer, by which it attempts to show that there is no space available for an office in the building, "does not reflect the current situation . . . but was created after the fact of the Union



lThe record reflects that since 1989 some 74 of these employees have been relocated from the Regional Office building to the PSC building. In addition, the other 56 were already stationed at the PSC building, but recently accreted into the bargaining unit as the result of a Clarification of Unit (CU) Petition following a reorganization by DHHS. See Department of Health and Human Services. Region II. New York. New York and National Treasure Employees Union and American Federation of Government Employees, et al., 43 FLRA No. 100 (January 30, 1992). proposal for permanent office space."



b. The Employer's Position



The Employer essentially would: (1) continue to provide the Union with the use of space, when available, in accordance with the parties' multi regional agreement and a previously-negotiated local Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was unilaterally implemented by the Employer in December 1989 after negotiations occurred over the relocation of some of the same employees to the

PSC building; and (2) provide the Union vice president located at the PSC building with a lockable file cabinet, and additional space enclosed with partitions to ensure privacy during Union-employee discussions.



There is no space available at the PSC building for a Union office, nor does management believe that the Union's services to bargaining-unit employees "are being hampered by the current arrangements." In this regard, the Union has a permanent office at the Regional Office building, which "is about a 15-minute walk for the average walker." The Employer's floorplan for the 10th floor of the PSC building, where the bulk of the unit employees are located, shows that "all space is taken." In recognition of the Union's valid concerns, however, a file cabinet and partitions have been provided for the use of the area vice president. This has increased the official's workspace from approximately 115 to 135 square feet. In conjunction with the MOU permitting Union officials to arrange for private space at the PSC building to meet with unit employees, as well as the availability of telephones, the Union's limited representational duties at the site are adequately met without the need for a permanent satellite office.



CONCLUSIONS



Having examined the evidence and arguments on this issue, we conclude that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of the Union's proposal. In our view, this is warranted because of: (1) the number of bargaining-unit employees now permanently located at the PSC building; (2) the need for confidentiality between such employees and their representatives; (3) the distance between the PSC building and the Regional Office building; and (4) the greater efficiency which would result from not having to locate suitable space each time the occasion arises. Further, we are persuaded by the evidence in the record that sufficient space can be found at the PSC building without undue disruption or cost to the agency. For these reasons, we shall order the adoption of the Union's proposal.

2. Use of Coffeemakers and Refrigerators



a. The Union's Position



The Union proposes that the following wording be adopted:



The parties agree to allow the bargaining-unit employees of each organizational component to have the option of coffeemaker equipment and a refrigerator and to enforce the 'Guidelines for Coffeemakers' announced on July 29, 1991, by Regional Commissioner Paul Barnes and incorporated here.



Permitting the use of these appliances by the employees permanently relocated to the PSC building would merely restore the privileges they enjoyed at the Regional Office building. In this regard, while the Employer has unilaterally implemented guidelines allowing use of coffeemakers since the dispute was submitted to the Panel, the Union proposes that they be incorporated "as an enforceable contractual provision." Because the objections raised by the use of coffeemakers "were identical to those made to allowing refrigerators," it is now spurious for the Employer to continue its opposition. Moreover, permitting the use of employee-owned refrigerators would complement "the amenities of microwaves" and "positively affect morale with no cost or disruption to the Employer."



b. The Employer's Position



The Employer opposes the use of refrigerators by employees in the PSC building. Refrigerators have not been available to employees since it was opened in 1976. Contrary to the Union's contention, only one work unit of employees it represents at the building "ever had a refrigerator when located at the regional office." Moreover, "management has concerns about the health and safety" of such items which make their use within an office environment inappropriate, even if they are employee-owned. In this regard, "there have been past experiences of poor maintenance of refrigerators, spoiled food, [and] failure to defrost and clean the refrigerator." Finally, refrigerators are unnecessary because employees currently have access to vending areas on the various floors equipped with microwave ovens, and a cafeteria on the main

floor where hot and cold food items as well as full meals are available.



CONCLUSIONS



We are persuaded that a modified version of the Union's proposal should be adopted to resolve the parties' dispute concerning this issue. Preliminarily, the parties appear to have reached agreement on the use of coffeemakers, including the Regional Commissioner's guidelines, so this aspect of the dispute need not be considered further. With respect to the use of a refrigerator, the Union's proposal shall be modified to specify that: (1) it be employee-owned and (2) the maintenance of the refrigerator and its contents be the responsibility of employees. In this regard, wording shall also be included entitling the Employer to seek its removal through the grievance-arbitration procedure should maintenance problems arise. In our view, this solution appropriately restores a privilege that some of the bargaining-unit employees currently located at the PSC building previously enjoyed while at the same time ensuring that the Employer's legitimate health and safety concerns are met.



3. Restoration of Third-Floor Breakroom



a. The Union's Position



The Union proposes that the parties reopen negotiations over restoration of the third-floor breakroom "in 6 months or sooner if the present occupants of the space move."2/ In this regard, part of the breakroom was converted to workspace after the Union submitted proposals in these negotiations, a situation which was "expected to last 6 months." This reduced its seating capacity by 50 percent, and "renders the room unusable for large group functions such as shower functions and retirement parties." Its proposal recognizes the Employer's temporary need for additional workspace, "while

preserving an important benefit for bargaining unit employees."



b. The Employer's Position



The following wording is proposed by the Employer:



The parties recognize that the vending area on the third floor was

reduced in size due to the need to relocate another component into the area. The parties further recognize that the use of this area is not specifically for NTEU employees.



It has continually stated that restoration of the breakroom to its previous size "was contingent upon the needs of the agency for operational activities." This reflects the history of that break area, which has fluctuated in size over the years depending on mission-related requirements. Moreover, at this time management "cannot guarantee when or if the space now being used as workspace

could be restored to the vending area." Its current size of 750



2The Union had initially proposed that the third-floor breakroom be restored within 6 months of the effective date of the parties' agreement to the dimensions it had on April 22, 1991, but modified its position in its rebuttal statement. square feet, however, provides employees adequate room to sit in the area for

break or lunch, and the cafeteria is also available for this purpose, making it unnecessary for employees to leave the building.



CONCLUSIONS



We conclude that this issue should be resolved on the basis of the Employer's position. In this regard, given the uncertainty of when the space will no longer be required for operational purposes, setting a 6-month deadline for renegotiations appears artificial. In our view, the Employer's discretion to use the space for mission-related needs should be preserved, and no useful purpose would be served by prolonging negotiations over the matter. We also note that although the breakroom is about half the size it once was, in conjunction with the other facilities in the vicinity, it appears to be adequate to meet the needs of employees working on the third floor.



ORDER



Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service

Labor-Management Relations Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under the Panel's regulations, 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6 (a) (2), the Federal Service Impasses Panel under § 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following:



1. Permanent Satellite Union Office



The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal.



2. Use of Coffeemakers and Refrigerators



The parties shall adopt the following wording:



The parties agree to: (1) allow the bargaining-unit employees of each organizational component to have the option of coffeemaker equipment and an employee-owned refrigerator and (2) enforce the 'Guidelines for Coffeemakers' announced on July 29, 1991, by Regional Commissioner Paul Barnes. Employees are responsible for the maintenance of the refrigerator and its contents. Should maintenance problems arise, the Employer may seek its removal

through the parties' gr