DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA MEDICAL CENTER DANVILLE, ILLINOIS and LOCAL 1963, 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

VA MEDICAL CENTER

DANVILLE, ILLINOIS

and

LOCAL 1963, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 93 FSIP 159

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 1963, 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, VA Medical Center, Danville, Illinois (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to participate in a telephone conference with Staff Associate Gladys M. Hernandez for the purpose of resolving their dispute over the alternative work schedule (AWS) to be worked by certain employees of the Psychology Service's Inpatient Substance Abuse Program (ISAP).(1) The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Ms. Hernandez would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers, and her 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.

    Ms. Hernandez held a telephone conference with the parties on August 17, 1993, but to no avail. She has reported to the Panel based on the record developed by the parties, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer's mission is to provide quality medical care to eligible veterans and their beneficiaries. The Union represents approximately 1,276 employees in 2 separate bargaining units. The unit concerned in this dispute is made up of approximately 930 General Schedule (GS), Wage Grade, and "hybrid" employees.(2) The dispute centers on three GS-9 psychology technicians (PT)(3) who are currently working 4/10 work schedules with rotating days off.(4) A newly hired GS-9 PT and three GS-6 rehabilitation technicians (RT) are already working a regular schedule (5 days per week, 8 hours per day), including weekends. The parties are covered by 2-year local and 3-year national collective-bargaining agreements negotiated in 1977 and 1982, respectively, which have been rolled over annually since their original terms expired. The dispute arose during negotiations over modifications to the June 4, 1989, AWS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) covering all of the Psychology Service, initiated by the Employer pursuant to paragraph 1.a. of that MOU.(5)

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether the three PTs should remain on 4/10 work schedules.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    While it would prefer that all employees work a regular (5 days per week, 8 hours per day) schedule, as a compromise, the Employer proposes that the three PTs work a 5-4/9 AWS with fixed days off; selection from among the designated days off (first or second Monday or first Friday in a biweekly pay period) would be based on seniority. Their 9-hour days would begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., while their 8-hour day would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. The other ISAP employees, a fourth PT(6) and two RTs, would work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, including weekends, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A third RT would continue to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, including weekends, and split his or her time between ISAP (noon to 4 p.m.) and the outpatient program (4 to 8:30 p.m.).

    In 1989, a "reorganization and resource constraints" led to the loss of 24-hour nursing coverage for the inpatient program. At that time, it agreed to permit day tour PTs to work 4/10 schedules with rotating days off and fixed days off for those reassigned to a recently created midnight tour "in order to keep ISAP in operation and assure 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week coverage." Problems arose immediately, however. Specifically, PTs were unavailable to provide counselling and to conduct program group activities, which led to a number of patient complaints.(7) With the recent increase in funding and staffing, including physicians, a physician's assistant, and nurses for 24-hour coverage, PTs are no longer needed to provide supervision of patients outside of the time frame in which group activities are scheduled (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). "Strengthening treatment and quality of care" has once again "assumed priority." Its proposal would accomplish this objective better than the Union's because PTs would work 10 or 11 days of the 18-day program, as compared with 8 or 9, thereby increasing their availability for counselling patients and conducting group activities.

2. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that the three PTs continue to work a 4/10 AWS but with fixed rather than rotating days off.(8) Two of them would work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the third from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. As for the other ISAP employees, three RTs would work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, including weekends, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m., or noon to 8:30 p.m. The individual hired to fill an unspecified vacant position would work Sunday through Thursday, 8 hours per day.(9)

    Generally, the 4/10 AWS has proved to be a "significant morale booster" for PTs during the recent period of "stressful changes" in the program, including increased workload. The problems with the current schedule are due to the PTs having rotating days off, not because they work 4/10 schedules. Fixed days off would reduce the number of cancellations of group activities by: (1) allowing management to revise patients' schedules to "show the groups meeting only at the times they are actually planned to occur;" and (2) improving PTs' coverage of group activities when those scheduled to conduct them are absent. Also, fixed days off would virtually do away with the counselor unavailability problem, which "typically" occurred during long weekends at the end of rotation cycles. This problem, however, will continue to some extent regardless of work schedules if management continues to assign patients to PTs immediately before they are scheduled to go on vacation. Moreover, its proposed schedule would allow the Employer to go forward with planned program enhancements. For example, with the careful selection of fixed days off, the Employer could increase the number of ESM group sections (which focus on rational self-analysis training) from 1 to 3, the number of employees leading each of those sections to 2, and the frequency with which they meet. Finally, 4/10 schedules permit PT availability outside of the group activities period (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), enhancing individual counselling sessions by increasing interaction between PTs and patients.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having evaluated the proposed schedules in light of the evidence and arguments presented, we shall order the parties to adopt the Employer's because, in our view, it balances the equities involved more effectively. Preliminarily, we note that the establishment of 4/10 work schedules for the three PTs in question occurred during a period of funding and staffing shortages which no longer exist. We are persuaded, on the basis of the record, that a 5-4/9 schedule should continue to provide the PTs with sufficient flexibility in their work schedules without sacrificing the Employer's ability to effect real changes to a program aimed at helping veterans overcome drug and/or alcohol abuse, a prevalent problem in society. In this regard, we agree with the Employer that requiring them to work an additional day every pay period would increase the total number of days during the course of the program in which they are present and, therefore, their availability for counselling patients. The PTs should also be available during more hours when program group activities are held, thereby facilitating efforts in correcting the ongoing problems concerning their cancellation, as well as enhancing them. Finally, we are not convinced that these same benefits would result from simply fixing the employees' off days under the 4/10 AWS.

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.

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda A. Lafferty

Executive Director

November 8, 1993

Washington, D.C.

 

1.This is an intensive drug and alcohol abuse treatment program, which the Director of the Medical Center recently gave approval to extend from 18 to 21 days. This should occur in the near future.

2."Hybrid" employees are covered under both titles 5 and 38 of the United States Code for different purposes.

3.In summary, the Union reports that PTs are responsible for: (1) providing individual counselling to four to six patients, including formulating their treatment plans and activities schedules, and monitoring their progress, specifically, meeting with them during the program to address problems and at the end to assess progress; (2) administering psychological tests to new patients as well as scoring and preparing draft summaries of such tests for the psychologist's review; (3) conducting one or more of the therapy or specialized skills training groups held for approximately 1 hour two