DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA AND LOCAL 1966, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER

LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA

AND

LOCAL 1966, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 92 FSIP 182

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 1966, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (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 Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Lebanon, Pennsylvania (Employer).

   After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with Senior Legal Advisor Jesse Etelson for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issues related to the assignment of return-vent-cleaning duties. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mr. Etelson would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the final offers of the parties and his recommendations for resolving the issues. Following consideration of this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

    Mr. Etelson met with the parties on September 1, 1992, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and toured the site. As a result of that meeting, the parties agreed that additional tests would be requested from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NIOSH) to determine whether vents at the facility contain hazards that might affect the health of employees assigned to clean them.(1) NIOSH issued a report on March 9, 1993; since the parties were unable to resolve the issues in dispute based on the report, and Mr. Etelson is no longer on the Panel's staff, they spoke with Staff Associate Ellen J. Kolansky by telephone conference, and submitted statements of position and their final offers. Mrs. Kolansky has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer provides medical care to veterans. The Union represents 1,100 bargaining-unit employees who are part of a nationwide, consolidated unit; they work in professional and non-professional positions at the hospital. The master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) became effective on August 13, 1982, for a 3-year period, and has been rolled over each year since 1985.

    Currently, bargaining-unit employees who work in the Building Management Service as WG-2 housekeeping aides clean fan coil units connected to air-supply ducts and change filters annually. They do not receive environmental differential pay (EDP) for such duties. The additional, quarterly, return-vent-cleaning duties would include removing the vent covers, washing them, and vacuuming as far into the ducts as can be reached. A Union-filed ULP over the Employer's implementation of these new duties was settled on October 26, 1991; the Employer ceased assigning cleaning duties and bargaining resumed. A few weeks earlier, the parties also settled an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaint relating to possible exposure to asbestos from pipe insulation when removing ceiling vents.

    The NIOSH report states that "[t]he concentrations and type of microbiologicals identified should not pose any occupational health concerns to those cleaning the return air vents."(2) It recommends that employees performing such duties wear rubber gloves, safety goggles, and a disposable, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter mask.(3) During the conference call, the Employer was willing to adopt the NIOSH recommendations to resolve the dispute; the Union, however, rejected the offer which has since been withdrawn.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The dispute concerns whether employees assigned vent-cleaning duties should receive EDP, and what equipment should be provided and procedures followed by employees when performing such duties.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that housekeeping employees assigned return-vent-cleaning duties should participate in the Employer's medical surveillance program, be provided with proper respirator protection,(4) and receive 8-percent EDP for exposure to micro-organisms.(5) The NIOSH assessment was inadequate because (1) it did not address exposure to Human Immunodeficiency Virus infections and drug-resistant tuberculosis; (2) it was tacked on as an afterthought to an already scheduled investigation; and (3) NIOSH personnel merely inspected some of the vents and analyzed only three vent-wipe samples. Furthermore, the NIOSH recommendation that employees wear respirators when performing such cleaning duties indicates that the employees' environment is less benign than the report might otherwise indicate. In 1986, the Panel ordered a VA medical center to continue EDP for fiberglass exposure based on a factfinder's recommendation; therefore, the Panel also should order this Employer to provide EDP.(6)

2. The Employer's Position

    The Employer's final offer, first presented on April 9, 1992, is: (1) to check for the presence of asbestos including areas identified by the Union; (2) establish procedures to protect em