DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI AND LOCAL 1336, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND

HUMAN SERVICES

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

AND

LOCAL 1336, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 94 FSIP 78

ARBITRATOR'S OPINION AND DECISION

    Local 1336, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union or AFGE), 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 (SSA), Office of Hearings and Appeals, Kansas City, Missouri (Employer).

    The Panel determined that the parties should submit their dispute concerning the floorplan/office layout in connection with the relocation of the Employer's facility, to mediation-arbitration for final resolution. Accordingly, on May 2, 1994, we convened at the Office of Hearings and Appeals, in Kansas City, Missouri. In the morning, I listened to the parties' arguments. I then made an on-site inspection of the office space in question in Kansas City, Kansas, where I gave the parties an opportunity to reiterate how their proposals would fit the new space. We then returned to the Kansas City, Missouri, offices. At the close of the proceeding, the parties were afforded an opportunity to make further statements and offer exhibits and other evidence. They also submitted briefs in support of their final positions. I have now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer's mission is to adjudicate appeals of determinations concerning Social Security benefits. The Union represents a bargaining unit of approximately 30 employees who hold positions such as hearing assistant, legal technician, and paralegal specialist.(1) The parties are subject to a master collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) due to expire in November 1996.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    Essentially, the parties disagree over how the space in the southside window area should be allocated, and where to place the multi-purpose and storage rooms.

1. The Employer's Position

    Overall, the Employer's floorplan would provide private offices for 10 decision-writer positions.(2) Currently, there are seven attorneys and one paralegal specialist on board, all of whom write decisions. Each would have a private office with a window. Decision writers have traditionally received such since they are generally among the highest-graded employees in the office. The crux of the dispute, however, involves its proposal to build private offices in the southside window area of the facility. This is necessary to accommodate four of the attorneys and the one paralegal specialist. Although the private offices it is proposing would all have windows, the offices overlook a roof, and the windows are generally small. By contrast, the windows located in the open areas of the office are bigger and would provide AFGE bargaining-unit employees with a better view.

    The Union's proposed floorplan, on the other hand, would prevent the construction of the four private offices for the attorneys in the southside area, and instead put systems furniture in their place. While this is intended to provide AFGE bargaining-unit members with more access to natural light, once the systems furniture is installed, its 5-foot high panels would actually block most of the light. Further, in planning the relocation management has already obtained 1,800 square feet of additional space that goes beyond the recommended General Services Administration/SSA Space Allocation Standards, to provide more space for the staff. This demonstrates that it "has designed this space to be efficient and fair, not to interpose some alleged caste system." Additionally, square footage for the ALJ's offices, hearing rooms, and the reception area was reduced to provide even more space for the rest of the staff. Any inequities in window space should be limited further in the future, since the two vacant decision writer positions are likely to go to AFGE bargaining-unit members when they eventually are filled.

    As to the other issues at impasse, the Employer proposes that the storage room "remain where it is to serve as a buffer between the hearing rooms and staff areas." This would keep noise interference to a minimum. The Employer's second and last floorplan proposal locates the multi-purpose room in an area that would allow the clerical staff more overall window space in its daily work areas, and is centrally accessible to all staff. The Union's proposal on the location of the multi-purpose room is unacceptable because it would cause decision writers and ALJs to have to walk through the clericals' work areas to use it.

2. The Union's Position

    Essentially, the Union proposes "to move the four decision writer offices" from the southside window area "to a non-windowed internal space." Its proposed floorplan would provide "an equal distribution of windowed (5) and non-windowed (5) offices for decision writers," and result in "one windowed office for the AFGE paralegal specialist; four windowed and three non-windowed NTEU staff attorney offices; eight windowed ALJ offices; and two windowed management offices." This would ensure "a more equitable distribution of office space" and improve morale. In this regard, 60 percent of the workforce is represented by AFGE, 14 percent by NTEU, and 26 percent are either ALJs or management/confidential employees. Under the Employer's floorplan, however, only "7.7 percent of the windows are unobstructed for 48 percent of the total office staff." Moving four decision writers to a non-windowed area would open up four window bays, raising the overall percentage of window space for AFGE bargaining-unit members to 23.1. Their four offices would then be located in the area proposed by the Employer as the storage room, where they would be no farther away from supervision, and would be closer to the ALJs for whom they work. Further, since decision writers use computers, they may be required to close the blinds in order to reduce glare and excessive heat, "negating the benefit of having a window" anyway.

    Under the Union's proposal, the storage room would be relocated "in the area adjacent to the mass of employees who use/need the bulk of the supplies." This would be convenient for employees since they need supplies on a daily basis. Finally, the Union proposes to locate the multi-purpose room "in the area housing the majority of the employees who would be using the room for break/lunch in addition to training and meetings." It would be in a quieter surrounding than proposed by the Employer, and "allow grouping of legal technicians by job function." Further, the "light well" would provide natural light to employees located in the area.

CONCLUSIONS

    After examining the new facility, the evidence, and arguments in this case, I am convinced that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of the Employer's floorplan. Its proposals are consistent with the customary practice of providing decision writers with private offices with windows, while the Union's statistically-based arguments fail to take this aspect of the dispute into account. Moreover, displacing the four decision writers from the southside of the office, as the Union proposes, would create a chain of events unnecessarily altering the Employer's carefully considered mission-related floorplan. In this regard, I note that changes to the original plans were made as a result of negotiations. Although I recognize the perceived inequities