DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION TOWSON DISTRICT OFFICE TOWSON, MARYLAND AND LOCAL 3302, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN

  SERVICES

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

TOWSON DISTRICT OFFICE

TOWSON, MARYLAND

AND

LOCAL 3302, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 93 FSIP 165

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 3302, 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 Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Towson District Office, Towson, Maryland (Employer or SSA).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse concerning the relocation of the district office should be resolved through an informal conference with Staff Associate Gladys M. Hernandez. When her pre-meeting telephone conference led to the settlement of five of the six issues in the case, the Panel reconsidered its procedural determination and directed that the remaining issue, concerning employee use of the television in the multipurpose room, should be resolved on the basis of a single written submission from each party. Thereafter, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the matter. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer provides service to the public in the areas of retirement, disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income entitlements within the Philadelphia Region. The Union represents approximately 70 bargaining-unit employees in the Towson District, which includes a district office and 4 branch offices, who are part of a nationwide consolidated unit of 46,700. They work primarily as claims and service representatives, and clerks. The parties' collective-bargaining agreement expired on January 25, 1993, but remains in effect until a successor is implemented.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties basically disagree over the types of programming that employees should be permitted to view on the television set in the multipurpose room.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes the following wording:

Use of a television set in the multipurpose room at the relocated site will be handled as in the past, i.e., the agency television and video equipment may be set up in the multipurpose room, if available, for viewing of media coverage of special events and significant news stories.

Television viewing would be distracting and unfair to employees seeking "quiet time" during lunch and rest periods. It could create conflict between employees, "many" of whom have already objected to having the television on during such periods. If the staff "unanimously" wanted a television in the multipurpose room, management's position would be different. Because it is divided on the issue, the Employer "believes that the status quo should be maintained." The Union's contention that employees want the television to be available so that they can "watch the news and keep up during the day with important stories" is negated by the fact that the parties recently agreed to continue their past practice "of allowing all employees to have personal radios at their desks." Radios are sufficient for the purposes expressed by the Union. This is particularly true when one considers that "the majority of television programming during the weekday is game shows and soap operas." In this regard, management has never objected to permitting the use of its equipment to view "significant national or international events which have resulted in special programming by the national TV networks."

    A television in the multipurpose room also would be "disruptive to Agency work flow." Employees in the office do not take lunch and breaks on a fixed schedule, but fit them in around their daily work, much of which involves interviewing the public. Based on previous Union statements, it believes that "the TV will lead to employees taking their lunch and breaks around the TV schedule rather than around natural work interruptions," and adversely affect Agency operations. Moreover, contrary to the views expressed by the Union, only 10 field offices out of the 145 in the Philadelphia Region report "any regular practice of having the TV going throughout the day in the break room." Half of the offices that do indicated "dissatisfaction with the practice and would terminate it if they could." A manager at one of the offices stated that the practice led to "an on-going problem of employees overstaying their allotted break and lunch times."

2. The Union's Position

    The Union's proposal is as follows:

The employees may use the Agency television in the multipurpose room during lunch and break times. The employees will be able to have a TV in the multipurpose room under the same personnel practices, policies, and procedures that are followed in the Randallstown, Glen Burnie, and Middle River offices.

The Employer's opposition to the Union's proposal is based purely on "personal reasons." There is no evidence that employees in offices that allow the use of television sets "take extensive breaks," nor has any disciplinary action been taken in the Philadelphia Region concerning the issue. There are, however, several offices represented by Local 3302 that have permitted the practice "for over 5 years," and none has reported problems or complaints. Moreover, "televisions are used in break rooms around the country" at other SSA district and branch offices, also without any reports that the practice has led to misuse. In particular, there is nothing to substantiate the Employer's allegations that the use of a television set during lunch and breaks would result in conflict between employees. Finally, in addition to enhancing the morale of employees whose jobs are stressful, the information received from television programming could be useful, and is more comprehensive than what is available on radio.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, on balance, we believe the Union's proposal provides the more reasonable approach for resolving the dispute. In this regard, most of the concerns raised by the Employer appear to be speculative and are unpersuasive, particularly in light of the comparability data provided by the Union indicating that identical practices exist in three other local SSA offices with employees it represents. Moreover, given the frequently stressful nature of employees' work, even marginal boosts to morale of the type involved here should be beneficial. Finally, if employee performance suffers as a result of the use of a television set in the multipurpose room, the Employer has means available for dealing with such problems. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Union's proposal.

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 durin