DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA MEDICAL CENTER ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI and LOCAL 96, 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

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

and

LOCAL 96, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 94 FSIP 2

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 96, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Medical Center, St. Louis, Missouri (Employer) filed a joint 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.

    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 18, 1993, in St. Louis, Missouri. At that meeting, the parties were unable to reach agreement on the outstanding issue. Mr. Jones has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates a hospital on a campus-like setting just south of St. Louis. The Union represents approximately 1,300 employees who are part of a nationwide, consolidated bargaining unit. The parties are covered by the master agreement (MA) between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Federation of Government Employees which was rolled over in August 1993, for a 1-year period; the parties are also covered by a local supplement which runs concurrently with the MA.

ISSUE

    The sole issue at impasse is the amount of official time for the Union president and executive vice-president.

1. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that the status quo be maintained. In this regard, although the parties' local supplement allows Union representatives "a reasonable amount of official time for representation functions," it is undisputed that through practice, the words "reasonable amount" have been interpreted as 6 1/2 hours of official time per day for the Union president and 6 hours per day for the executive vice-president. This amount is necessary given the size of the bargaining unit and the volume of representational work performed by the president and the executive vice-president. The officers' representational duties include: preparing for, and participating in, negotiations; representing employees in the higher steps of the grievance procedure; preparing requests for information; preparing unfair labor practice charges; conducting safety inspections and keeping abreast of revised OSHA standards and regulations; advising employees on EEO and MSPB matters; assisting employees with workers compensation claims and position classification appeals; attending departmental meetings; reviewing Medical Center memoranda and bulletins prior to their issuance; and keeping up to date on case law and regulations which affect the rights of bargaining-unit members. Because of the difficulty experienced in finding qualified volunteers to serve as stewards, nearly all of the representational duties have, out of necessity, been performed by the two officers. The amount of time currently allowed is reasonable, given that at two other VA Medical Centers with smaller bargaining units (Muskogee, Oklahoma and Kansas City, Missouri) two union officials are each allowed 100- percent official time.

    The Employer's proposal, which would allow use of official time by the president only during certain hours, is overly restrictive; in this regard, the president's representational duties may not coincide with the scheduled hours selected by the Employer. In addition, the Employer's proposal is likely to result in an imbalance between the parties since the Employer has three full-time employees working on labor relations matters. Overall, the Employer has not demonstrated a need which would require changing the existing practice.

2. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes the following:

The Union president shall be entitled to 3 hours of official time per day, to be used between the hours of 8 and 11 a.m. The executive vice-president shall be entitled to 20-percent official time on an annual basis when immediate operational needs do not prohibit use of official time.

A reduction in the amount of official time for both officers is justified, given the size of the bargaining unit and the amount of representational work.(1) Moreover, requiring the president to use official time during fixed morning hours is necessary because of operational requirements; in this regard, the president works as a driver performing the crucial function of delivering pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and other supplies from a central warehouse to various locations throughout the complex. In addition, since the executive vice-president works in a medical laboratory, subjecting his use of official time to operational needs is reasonable, as work requirements may take priority.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having reviewed the record on this issue, we conclude that a compromise provision should provide the best resolution to the dispute. In our view, the Employer's proposal is too severe a cutback, given that the prior practice allowed each official approximately 75-percent official time on a daily basis. In addition, requiring the use of official time during scheduled hours would likely lead to further disputes, as representational duties are certain to arise outside of the established schedule. The Union's proposal, on the other hand, is too generous, given the size of the bargaining unit.(2) Accordingly, we shall order adoption of a provision which allows the president and executive vice-president each 50-percent official time on a daily basis. In reaching this conclusion, we are cognizant that the operational needs of the Employer may, on occasion, take priority over the use of official time. Therefore, to permit the parties to achieve an appropriate balance between the Union's duty to represent unit employees and the facility's mission requirements, we shall order additional wording providing such time "except when the necessity of work outweighs the need for official time."

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:

The president and executive vice-president shall each be allowed 50-percent official time on a daily basis, except when the necessity of work outweighs the need for official time. Such amounts are to be per day and noncumulative.

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda A. Lafferty

Executive Director

January 5, 1994

Washington, D.C.

 

1.The Union filed 44 requests for information in the period from October 1992 through October 1993. Since April 1990, the parties have engaged in mid-term negotiations on at least 28 separate occasions; 13 of the items were initiated by the Employer, and 15 were issues raised by the Union. There is currently one class-action EDP grievance, related to asbestos exposure, pending arbitration, and the parties are currently involved in a similar EDP dispute related to exposure to lead-based paint. The Union has received assistance from three AFGE national representatives on these safety and health grievances and has also engaged private counsel. It is undisputed that there are very few grievances which are appealed to the higher steps of the grievance procedure.

With respect to ULPs, in Fiscal Year 1992, 36 charges were filed, but no complaints were issued. In Fiscal Year 1993, 44 charges were filed, but only 4 complaints were issued. In Fiscal Year 1994, 30 charges have so far been filed, with most having been settled; since the FLRA has been without a General Counsel, no complaints have been issued.

It is undisputed that the Union has had recent involvement in fo