DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION UPPER COLORADO REGION SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH and LOCAL 611, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION

UPPER COLORADO REGION

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

and

LOCAL 611, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD

OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, AFL-CIO

Case No. 93 FSIP 43

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 611, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 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 the Interior, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado Region, Salt Lake City, Utah (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with Panel Member Charles A. Kothe for the purpose of resolving the dispute over the geographic area and companies to be surveyed to determine the pay of employees who work at the Elephant Butte Dam (EBD) on the Rio Grande River in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mr. Kothe would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers, and his recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

    Mr. Kothe met with the parties on February 24, 1993, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, but the parties were unable to reach a settlement. He has reported to the Panel based on the record developed by the parties, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer manages, develops, and protects water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner for a region encompassing Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Idaho. The Union represents approximately 15 employees who work for the Rio Grande Project. There are two groups of employees. "Storage" employees are those who maintain the dam and the canal (irrigation) system. They work as laborers, welders, mechanics, and maintenance workers. "Power" employees operate the hydroelectric plant. They occupy "dual classification" positions; that is, they work as electricians and mechanics (electronic or power plant) and are also trained as power plant operators. In accordance with § 9(b) of the Prevailing Rate Systems Act of 1972 (PRSA), these employees' wages are negotiated by the parties following the practice in place on August 19, 1972.(1) The parties are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) which, pursuant to its terms, has been rolled over annually since its original 1-year term expired in September 1972.

 

The dispute arose during negotiations over those companies to be used in future wage surveys pursuant to the parties' August 5, 1992, memorandum of understanding (MOU).(2) Since 1990, four power companies -- (1) El Paso Electric (EPE); (2) Public Service of New Mexico (PSNM); (3) Plains Electric (Plains); and (4) the Alamito Power Company in Arizona(3) -- and two water districts -- (1) Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) and (2) the El Paso County Water Irrigation District (EPCWID) -- have been surveyed. Both the power companies and the water districts were surveyed to determine the pay of "storage" employees, but only the power companies for "power" employees.(4) As for the geographic area surveyed, the parties have never agreed upon a specific area, but rather chose to concentrate their efforts on the actual power companies and water districts to be surveyed.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over: (1) What will be the geographic area from which representative power plants and water districts will be surveyed to establish employees' pay? and (2) Which power companies and water districts within that area will be surveyed?

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes that the geographic area from which power companies and water districts should be surveyed for pay purposes be the Federal Wage System (FWS) survey area for El Paso, Texas.(5) While it agrees that the question of which power companies and water districts are to be surveyed also remains unresolved, only the geographic area issue is at impasse.(6) Negotiations over which power companies and water districts will be surveyed should follow the Panel's determination of what is the appropriate survey area. If the Panel determines to go forward on this issue, however, it proposes that the parties be ordered to survey those power companies and water districts which have been "historically acceptable" to them -- (1) EPE; (2) PSNM;(7) (3) Plains; (4) EBID; and (5) EPCWID. Any additional companies the Panel determines should be surveyed should be located within the FWS survey area for El Paso, for example, Sierra County Electric Company and Southwest Public Service Company. The Panel should also indicate which of those are to be used to set "storage" employees' wages, but should not limit it to the power companies. What the Employer is looking to pay is "a rate that is competitive for recruitment and retention of employees ... [and] consistent with prevailing rates in the Truth or Consequences area."

    The FWS area for El Paso is the appropriate area to survey because: (1) the entire area under the jurisdiction of the Rio Grande Project Office is located within it; (2) it is representative of the "economic realities" found in Truth or Consequences, unlike some of the areas, for example, Tucson and Phoenix, the Union proposes to include in the survey; and (3) to do so is consistent with past practice. Also, the Union has in the past accepted it as the survey area to determine the pay of "storage" employees. Positions which match those held by employees can and have been found in power companies and water districts in Truth or Consequences and Sierra County (New Mexico), and most definitely could be found within the El Paso FWS survey area. There is no need to go into an area 250 miles away from the site of the Employer's operations when there are two large metropolitan cities -- El Paso and Albuquerque -- within 135 miles. Moreover, reaching into such a faraway area is inappropriate because: (1) the Employer does not compete with power companies or water districts located there, or recruit from there; and (2) it is outside the employees' commuting area, the vast majority of whom live within 10 miles of Truth or Consequences.

    Contrary to the Union's assertion, it did not "select" the companies and water districts surveyed in the past; rather, they were agreed upon by the parties through negotiations. Moreover, its proposed companies were not those paying the lowest wages in the area, for example, Sierra County Electric Company. On the other hand, the companies acceptable to the Union for over 25 years are no longer so, but it has failed to explain why. In this regard, in 1992, Alamito and EPE, two of the power companies surveyed, for varying reasons, did not give a pay increase. As a result, the Union was unsatisfied with that year's pay increase. It is only when this has happened in the past that the Union has sought to change or expand the companies surveyed. The three companies the Union proposes to add, Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project (SRP), and Tucson Electric Power (TEP), however, would make the Employer a wage leader in all area jobs (in "storage" ones, it already is), which is contrary to the "prevailing rates" principles outlined in the PRSA.(8)

2. The Union's Position(9)

    The Union proposes that the survey area cover the 250-mile radius of Truth or Consequences. Also, it proposes that the specific power companies and water districts to be surveyed within that area should be: (1) EPE (Newman Plant); (2) PSNM (San Juan Plant); (3) Plains (Prewitt Plant); (4) SRP (Coronado Plant); (5) TEP (Alamito Plant); (6) APS (Four Corners Plant); and (7) EBID.

    Over the years, the parties have disagreed over the power companies to be surveyed, with the Employer, in contravention of the PRSA, preferring those with low wages, rather than those whose employees perform comparable work to EBD employees, as well as work under similar conditions of employment.(10) The survey area must be expanded to 250 miles so that power companies such as the ones it has proposed, with employees performing work comparable to that of EBD employees, can be included in the survey; there are no such companies within the area proposed by the Employer.(11) Its proposal is faithful to the principle of "equal pay for equal work" followed in establishing the wages of prevailing rate employees.

    EPCWID should not be surveyed as the Employer proposes because it employs migrant workers at wages just above the legal minimum. While the same may be said for EBID, it is willing to accept EBID because some of the employees it represents work in the area.

CONCLUSIONS

    We turn first to the Employer's belated argument that the parties are not at impasse over the power companies and water districts to be surveyed. In our view, the record shows that the parties' negotiations centered on the specific power companies and water districts to be surveyed and not the survey area, which came into play only because of the Union's proposal to include power companies located well outside the Truth or Consequences area. We find, therefore, that both the issue of the geographic area, and the power companies and water districts within that area to be surveyed, are properly before us.

    On the merits, we note that the record does not support the Union's allegation that there are no power companies or water districts in the general area of Truth or Consequences whose employees are performing duties similar to that of the Employer's, and working under similar conditions of employment. In fact, there appear to be at least four such companies or districts located within 135 miles of EBD which were surveyed in the past and appear not to be in dispute in these negotiations -- EPE, PSNM, Plains, and EBID. The Union's sole purpose for seeking to expand the survey area appears to be to enable it to reach power companies in more affluent communities paying higher wages. While its attempt in this regard is understandable, we are persuaded that the absence of wage increases in some of the power companies and water districts traditionally surveyed provides an insufficient basis for changing a practice that has worked well for many years, and has permitted bargaining-unit employees to receive some of the highest wages in the area.

    For these reasons, with regard to "storage" employees, we shall order the parties to survey the above apparently undisputed power companies, and water districts, as well as the EPCWID which has customarily been included. As for "power" employees, the parties shall survey the same three power companies used for "storage" employees, but may, by mutual agreement, survey additional power companies, provided they are within the FWS survey area for El Paso. We believe this is consistent with the parties' past practice, Article VII of the CBA, and should prevent any further delay in establishing the wage rates of bargaining-unit employees.

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 pursuant to 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:

With regards to the "storage" employees, the parties shall survey three power companies -- (1) El Paso Electric; (2) Public Service of New Mexico; (3) Plains Electric -- and two water districts -- (1) Elephant Butte Irrigation District and (2) El Paso County Water Irrigation District. For the "power" employees, the parties (a) shall include in their survey the power companies enumerated above, and (b) may, by mutual agreement, survey additional power companies provided they are within the Federal Wage System survey area for El Paso.(12)

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda A. Lafferty

Executive Director

April 20, 1993

Washington, D.C.

 

1.Article VII of the then and current collective-bargaining agreement provides as follows: 

Wage rates and related items affecting hourly employees when negotiated shall be based on operation and maintenance work of a nature similar to that performed by the Employer's Power Field Branch and prevailing in the geographic areas in which the Employer operates.

2.This MOU provides, among other things, that: 

During the upcoming year (1992-1993), the parties agree to meet and negotiate groundrules regarding which companies will be used for future negotiations. ... (Emphasis added.)

3.In fact, (1) through (3) have been used since at least 1984.

4.In the past, the El Paso rates under the Federal Wage System and the rates paid by local (Truth or Consequences) companies have also been used to determine the pay of "storage" employees.

5.This area encompasses Dona Ana, Otero, Chaves, Eddy, Grant, Hidalgo, Lincoln (White Sands only), Luna, Sierra, and Socorro (White Sands only) counties in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Culberson, and Hudspeth counties in Texas.

6.The Employer first raised this argument at the informal conference with Mr. Kothe. At no time during the Panel's investigation of the case preceding its assertion of jurisdiction did the Employer claim that this issue was not at impasse. In fact, the record indicates that when the Union brought the matter to the Panel, at the heart of the dispute over the power companies and water districts was the Union's proposed inclusion of the Salt River Project (Coronado Plant), Arizona Public Service Company (Four Corners Plant), and exclusion of EPCWID. The parties were in agreement over the inclusion of EPE, PSNM, Plains, and EBID. Tucson Electric Power (Alamito Plant) was proposed but contingent upon the Union's withdrawing its proposal in favor of the Employer's.

7.While outside the FWS survey area for El Paso, this power company has been used to determine the pay of "power" employees since 1969.

8.The Employer currently pays employees in "power" positions an hourly rate of $19.12, $4 above the El Paso average pay of journeymen in similar positions under the FWS. By comparison, the journeyman rate at the SRP will be $23.22 beginning May 16, 1993, and $21.35 at APS with an increase scheduled for sometime in April 1993, while the FWS rate for northeastern Arizona, where they are located, is $16.95.

9.This summary of the Union's position includes arguments set out in its request for assistance and offered during the course of the Panel's initial investigation of the case.

10.We note, however, that this is the first time that these parties have been before the Panel with the instant issues.

11.It offers no documentary evidence of this, however.

12.We