DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE CINCINNATI SUB-REGIONAL OFFICE CINCINNATI, OHIO and LOCAL 2660, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION

  SERVICE

CINCINNATI SUB-REGIONAL OFFICE

CINCINNATI, OHIO

and

LOCAL 2660, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 93 FSIP 219

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 2660, 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 Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Cincinnati Sub-Regional Office, Cincinnati, Ohio (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through an informal conference between a Panel representative and the parties. If no settlement were reached, the Panel representative was to notify the Panel of the status of the dispute; the notification would include the final offers of the parties and the representative's recommendations for resolving the matter. 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.

    Pursuant to the Panel's determination, Staff Associate Harry E. Jones met with the parties on November 17, 1993, at the INS offices in Cincinnati, Ohio. At that meeting, the parties were unable to reach agreement on the outstanding issues. Mr. Jones has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer administers and enforces the immigration laws of the United States. The Union represents 21 General Schedule (GS) employees who are members of a 9,400-member nationwide consolidated bargaining unit. Representative occupations include immigration examiner, special agent, applications clerk, contact representative, and criminal investigator; employees range in grade from GS-5 through -13. The parties are covered by the national collective-bargaining agreement between the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the National Immigration and Naturalization Service Council of the American Federation of Government Employees; that contract expired in August 1993, but remains in effect pending implementation of a successor.

ISSUES

    The parties disagree over the use of existing office space in the area which the Employer controls in the Federal Building in downtown Cincinnati.

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes the following:

(1) Room #1 will be occupied by a bargaining-unit immigration examiner, with a partition installed, with the balance of the office space used for storage of files; in addition, a window will be installed, allowing the examiner to be observed from the hallway outside; (2) the applications clerk will be moved to Room #2, which is currently used as a lunch and break room; should a second applications clerk be hired, that employee will also be assigned to Room #2; (3) Room #3 will be used exclusively for investigations and interviews; as an alternative proposal, it would also be used as a lunch and break room, except when operational needs take priority; and (4) there will be no change in the status of Room #4, which will continue to be occupied exclusively by the supervisory immigration examiner.

Moving the applications clerk to Room #2 and keeping the supervisory immigration examiner in Room #4 is the best plan since the supervisory examiner interacts frequently with the unit examiners. Also, Room #2 is too isolated for the supervisor, as it is located across the hall. Since the Employer plans to hire a second applications clerk, assigning both clerks to Room #2 would be practical because it would allow the new clerk to be trained by the incumbent. Assigning Room #1 to an immigration examiner, with a partitioned space provided for files, should allow the examiner to conduct private interviews and perform research with only minimal distractions; in addition, installing a window should provide enhanced security and is consistent with the design of the other immigration examiner offices. Since Room #4 is immediately adjacent to the office occupied by the assistant officer in charge, retention of that space by the supervisory examiner is preferable; in this regard, the walls are thin and a physical buffer between upper management and unit employees is necessary to prevent unit employees from overhearing confidential discussions. The option of allowing Room #3 to be used as a break room, with operational needs taking priority, preserves a space for employee breaks, while recognizing that special agents require a private interrogation room on occasion.

    The Union's proposal fails to consider the need for close interaction between the immigration examiners and their supervisor. Moreover, total elimination of the lunch and break room is likely to have a negative impact on employee morale. Furthermore, the proposal disregards the need for a physical buffer between upper management and bargaining-unit employees. Overall, the Union's plan would not allow for an efficient working relationship between unit examiners and their supervisor.

2. The Union's Position

The Union's proposal is as follows:

(1) Room #1 will be retained as the applications clerk's office with no physical changes being made to the work space; (2) Room #2, the existing lunch and break room, will be occupied by the supervisory immigration examiner; (3) Room #3 will be used exclusively as an interview and interrogation room; and (4) Room #4, which is currently occupied by the supervisory immigration examiner, will be assigned to a bargaining-unit immigration examiner.

Having the applications clerk work in close proximity to the immigration examiners is the best approach since the clerk provides direct support to the examiners. Keeping the clerk in the employee's present location, Room #1, would maintain existing levels of productivity, as the examiner files and photocopier are located in that area. Assigning Room #2 to the supervisory examiner would provide this individual with additional privacy as well as an increase in the size of his or her work space. Designating Room #3 as being exclusively for operational needs would avoid confusion among employees as to when it may be used as a break room; also, special agents have always had a private interrogation room, and the Employer has not demonstrated any need to change this practice. Designating Room #4 as an immigration examiner office would allow for increased privacy for interviews, as it would eliminate the sharing of an office between an immigration examiner and the applications clerk; in addition, the examiner could perform research and study his or her files without constant interruption by other employees. Under this plan, examiners would not be completely without supervision, as the assistant officer in charge and officer in charge have offices in the same general vicinity; moreover, the supervisory examiner would be just across the hall should employees need to ask questions or request guidance on a particular issue. Overall, this proposal would allow front-line employees to continue to function as a cohesive work group.

    The Employer's proposal fails to recognize the operational need for the applications clerk to be in the same work area as the immigration examiners, as the clerk provides direct support to them. The Employer's proposal would be burdensome to the clerk since this employee works with a large volume of files, and quite often, the hallway outside the Employer's offices is crowded with large numbers of people waiting to be processed; in addition, since the file cabinets and copy machine would continue to be located in the clerk's present work area, moving this individual across the hall would have an adverse impact on overall productivity. Putting an immigration examiner in Room #1, with a partitioned area for work files, may not allow for sufficient privacy, since other employees would be permitted access to the files while the examiner is conducting interviews. Installation of a window in Room #1 would be invasive; in this regard, the Employer's statements regarding security are disingenuous, since employees in other satellite locations (e.g., Dayton) are routinely required to conduct interviews in offices without windows. Allowing Room #3 to be used as a part-time break room is unnecessary and could create conflict among employees. Overall, the Employer's proposal would not allow front-line employees to operate as an integrated unit.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having reviewed the record on this issue, we are persuaded that the Employer's proposal provides the better basis for resolution of the dispute. Adoption of the Employer's plan should maximize opportunities for interaction between the immigration examiners and their supervisor, thereby enhancing the overall efficiency of the operation. While the affected employees, especially the applications clerk, will undoubtedly require a period of adjustment, we believe that the Employer has considered carefully the impact of its plan on mission requirements, employee morale, and job functions. Under such circumstances, we are unwilling to second guess the Employer's decision as to the best method of executing its mission. Consistent with our preference for the Employer's approach, it is necessary to select one of the alternative proposals which relate to Room #3. Because employees have been provided with a lunch and break room in the past, we see no reason to discontinue this benefit; accordingly, Room #3 shall be made available for such use, except when operational needs take priority.

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 parties to adopt the following wording:

(1) Room #1 will be occupied by a bargaining-unit immigration examiner, with a partition installed, with the balance of the office space used for storage of files; in addition, a window will be installed, allowing the immigration examiner to be observed from the hallway outside; (2) the applications clerk will be moved to Room #2, which is currently used as a lunch and break room; should a second applications clerk be hired, that employee will also be assigned to Room #2; (3) Room #3 will be used as an interview and interrogation room; it will also be used as a lunch and break room, except when operational needs take priority; and (4) there will be no change in the status of Room #4, which will continue to be occupied exclusively by the supervisory immigration examiner.

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda A. Lafferty

Executive Director

December 21, 1993

Washing