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 )
Local R1-32, National Association of Government Employees (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. § 7119, between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bedford, Massachusetts (Employer or VAMC).
After investigation of the request 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 remain unresolved. 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 is in the process of being implemented.
All 10 employees who will be affected by the outcome of the 2 disputes 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 Office of the Chief Engineer for two engineers and an engineering and an architectural technician 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 for 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, but utility system repair operators (USROs) are authorized to assist at the boiler plant in emergencies.
The dispute concerns whether employees who work in two sections of the Department of Engineering would be permitted to work a CWS.
1. The Union's Position
In the Office of the Chief of Engineering Service, the Union proposes that four employees (two engineers, one engineering and one architectural technician) be permitted to try a 5-4/9 compressed work schedule on an expanded (9 or 10 hour) version of current shifts for 3 months. In the boiler room, it proposes a trial of 5-4/9 or 4-10 compressed work schedules (CWS) be permitted for four of six boiler room operators. 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 are permitted such schedules. Without a short trial period that would have little negative effect, it is difficult to understand any basis for rejecting such schedules. Furthermore, employees' morale, family life, and commuting times would all be improved under a CWS.
2. The Employer's Position
The Employer proposes that the Panel order the Union to withdraw its proposal on CWS in both cases. In the Office of the Chief Engineer, it argues that because its staffing is thin, such schedules would divert the supervisor attention from the multimillion dollar projects to supervising smaller projects during employees' off days, adding to the burden stemming from 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 slow reaction times in emergency situations, thereby creating the potential for harm to both life and property. In addition, it is impossible to come up with a schedule in this round-the-clock operation that does not create an overlap in personnel during shifts when extra men are not required and must be paid at premium rates.
After considering the evidence and arguments presented, we conclude that the parties should adopt the Employer's position that the Union withdraw its proposals concerning a CWS in the Office of the Chief Engineer (Case No. 91 FSIP 190) and in the boiler plant (Case No. 92 FSIP 74). In our view, the Employer raises real concerns regarding use of such schedules when its staff is small. In the Office of the Chief Engineer, employees monitor costly work projects that ultimately may affect patient care (e.g., power outages, loss of telephone service, heating and cooling electricity). The introduction of a CWS would take the supervisor away from his regular work while he filled in for employees away on their off days. When combined with other absences, the frequency of such coverage might hamper employees' ability to cover their own assignments. Similarly, responses to problems in the boiler room require a level of alertness that could be compromised by overly long shifts, or even double shifts if an employee failed to appear for his shift. While we acknowledge the positive aspects of a CWS, for the above-given reason we a