DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS REGIONAL OFFICE AND INSURANCE CENTER PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA AND LOCAL 940, 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

REGIONAL OFFICE AND INSURANCE

  CENTER

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

AND

LOCAL 940, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 93 FSIP 132

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of Veterans Affairs, Regional Office and Insurance Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Employer) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and Local 940, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse concerning, among other things, the timing for negotiations over standardized groundrules, should be resolved on the basis of abbreviated written submissions, with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure and the Panel has considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer administers three offices at the Philadelphia site: (1) the Regional Office and Insurance Center; (2) the Benefits Delivery Center; and (3) the Systems Development Center. It handles insurance claims for veterans nationwide, and processes benefits, and guaranteed student loans and home mortgages for veterans in a three-state area. The Union represents approximately 700 nonprofessional employees who work in the offices listed above and are part of a nationwide, consolidated unit. Positions include: insurance specialist, policy service technician, veterans benefit counselor, veterans claims examiner, death claims counselor, and clerk-typist. The master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) expired in August 1982, but has been rolled over annually. The local supplemental agreement became effective in 1977, and remains in effect on subjects that are not preempted by the MCBA. Negotiations over a successor local supplemental agreement are on a list of topics over which the parties have previously agreed to negotiate.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The dispute essentially concerns: (1) when the parties will conduct negotiations for standardized groundrules, and, thus, whether such groundrules will be available to apply to mid-term, impact-and-implementation, and successor local agreement bargaining currently scheduled, as well as to future bargaining; (2) official time for preparing for such bargaining; (3) which party shall make the first proposal; (4) length of the negotiating sessions; and (5) whether the Employer should be responsible for maintaining and distributing a bargaining history of the negotiations.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    While the Union is not opposed to the concept of standardized groundrules, it proposes that the parties delay such negotiations until they complete bargaining over the list of topics that is part of an April 28, 1992, unfair labor practice (ULP) settlement, plus several subsequently agree-upon topics. The ULP concerned the Employer's restricting Union representatives engaged in negotiations to the official time cap agreed to for representation purposes in a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the parties on December 22, 1989. To put the groundrules topic ahead of others on the lists would undermine the ULP settlement agreement. The Union's proposal to take up negotiations for standardized groundrules during local supplemental bargaining has now been rescinded due to the Employer's "unreasonableness." It also proposes that Union negotiators be granted 3 hours of preparation time for each session (the unused portion would be applied to the following week), that each bargaining session be no longer than 2 hours unless the parties mutually agree to extend or add sessions, that it present its proposals first, and that the Employer maintain the bargaining history in accordance with a form created by the Union.

2. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes that the parties immediately (in essence, within 7 days of the Panel's decision) establish standardized groundrules "for substantive and impact-and-implementation bargaining." In addition, sessions would be no less than 1 hour, it would present its proposals first, and Union negotiators would be granted 2 hours of preparation time for each session held. The groundrules would cover bargaining for all three offices at the facility. Currently, the parties negotiate a separate set of groundrules for each topic on their list. As a result, a "queue" of topics to be negotiated has been created and bargaining has progressed slowly; by applying standardized groundrules to the topics on the list, bargaining would be faster, and needed agreements, especially in the performance area, would be available sooner. Finally, to postpone such bargaining because of concerns related to the ULP settlement would be to honor form over substance.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that they should adopt a modified version of the Employer's proposal to resolve the dispute. Although we recognize the frustrations attached to the previous problems addressed by the ULP settlement, we believe that from a practical standpoint, on the key issue, negotiating standardized groundrules immediately stands to benefit both parties by avoiding needless duplication of effort, and signals that the time has come to seize opportunities available to improve how they conduct their joint business. In this regard, we note that negotiations over such groundrules may coincide with the parties' joint labor-management relations training scheduled for July. The modification should clarify that the standardized groundrules should be applied to all future bargaining, including bargaining over the topics listed in the ULP settlement agreements and in subsequent agreements, unless the parties mutually agree to do otherwise.

    As to other matters, on most of which the parties appear close to agreement, we are persuaded that: (1) the parties should split the difference so that Union negotiators would be granted 2 1/2 hours of non-cumulative preparation time for each session; (2) the parties should flip a coin to decide who presents the first proposal, and thereafter, the parties would alternate in sequence; (3) sessions should be at least 2 hours to encourage greater concentration of efforts; and (4) the Employer should be responsible for writing the bargaining history in accordance with the Union's form since it is likely to have better resources available for this purpose.

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:

The parties shall adopt the Employer's proposal regarding the groundrules for standardized groundrules negotiations, except for the following wording, which shall replace the Employer's proposed wording where appropriate:

2. Negotiations for standardized groundrules will begin within 7 calendar days of receipt of the Panel's decision on the matter and such standardized groundrules will be applied to negotiations arising from the list of topics in the parties' April 28, 1992, ULP settlement agreement and subsequent agreements, unless the parties mutually agree to do otherwise.

3. In connection with these negotiations, each Union negotiator will be allotted 2 1/2 hours of noncumulative official time per session for preparation.

8. Negotiations shall be conducted no less than twice per week. The actual days and times will be mutually agreed upon at the first meeting between the parties. Each meeting shall last at least 2 hours. Both parties must mutually agree to extend the hours of negotiations or add additional sessions. (Negotiations sessions will be on official time.)

12. A coin flip shall determine which party presents the first proposal. The losing party shall then present any counter proposal, if necessary. Other proposals will be presented in an alternating sequence. Such proposals and counter proposals must be in writing.

    The parties shall also adopt the following wording as item 17 of the groundrules: