DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS EDITH NOURSE ROGERS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS and LOCAL R1-32, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

EDITH NOURSE ROGERS MEMORIAL

HOSPITAL

BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS

and

LOCAL R1-32, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU,

AFL-CIO

Case No. 94 FSIP 97

DECISION AND ORDER

     Local R1-32, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, AFL-CIO (Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) pursuant to the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982 (Act), 5 U.S.C. § 6120 et seq., to resolve an impasse arising from the determination of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Hospital, Bedford, Massachusetts (Employer or hospital) not to establish a compressed work schedule (CWS) as proposed by the Union.

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved pursuant to written submissions from the parties, with the Panel to take final action in accordance with § 6131(c) of the Act and § 2472.12 of its regulations. A written submission was made only by the Employer pursuant to this procedure and the Panel now has considered the record in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates a psychiatric hospital with a patient population of 670. It includes approximately 30 buildings spread out over 17 acres in a rural area. While its overall mission is to provide medical care to eligible veterans and their dependents, it is also responsible for securing the safety of all persons and property on its premises. The Union represents approximately 900 General Schedule and Wage Grade employees in 2 separate bargaining units (professionals and non-professionals, respectively). The parties are covered by a national collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) due to expire in May 1995.

    This CWS dispute apparently arose during Union-initiated mid-term bargaining. It concerns 10 police officers who are responsible for maintaining hospital security and law enforcement operations. At present, they are working standard 8-hour shifts on a rotating basis (4 months on "base," 2 months on "off" shift).(1)

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole question before the Panel is the following:

Whether the finding on which the Employer has based its determination not to establish the Union's proposed CWS is supported by evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an adverse agency impact as defined under the Act.(2)

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    In essence, the Union proposes a 5-4/9 CWS(3) in which the officers assigned to each of the three shifts (watches) would alternate working the following hours on a monthly basis: (1) on "A" shift, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; (2) on "B," 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and (3) on "C," 3 to 12 p.m. and 2 to 11 p.m. Regardless of the shift, two officers would always work the same hours.(4) The schedule would increase police visibility by 60-plus hours per week and during shift changes, notwithstanding that the number of days when only two officers would be on duty would increase from 138 to 180. Annual leave schedules and training assignments would reduce police visibility with or without a CWS in place and, therefore, are not factors that should be considered in evaluating the proposed schedule. At present, when only two officers are on duty during any given shift due to leave schedules or training assignments, the Employer is not scheduling a third officer on overtime to provide the "proper level of service." Overtime should not be considered a "main factor" against implementation of the proposed schedule because the need for officers to work overtime would exist regardless of the work schedule in place. In fact, the proposed schedule should reduce annual leave usage and, hence, the need for overtime. The Employer's concern for officer "readiness and alertness" is disingenuous. In this regard, in violation of the CBA, the Employer has in the past required officers to work double shifts or to "doubl[e] back from one shift to another" (i.e., for example, work the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and return for the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift).

2. The Employer's Position

    Preliminarily, "there is a direct relationship between visibility of officers and the crime rate. As visibility increases, the crime rate decreases." It is, therefore, "extremely important" in deterring crime and maintaining the safety of patients, employees, and visitors that police visibility be maintained or increased, but particularly so for a rural psychiatric hospital with a large patient population spread out over many buildings where "disturbances, arrests, and drug possession" have been on the rise since 1991. Under the Union's proposed CWS the number of shifts with three or more officers on duty would decrease from 314 to 202 between May 1 and November 1, 1994.(5) This amounts to a 64-percent reduction in police visibility during a 6-month period, which would diminish the level of police and security services at the hospital. Contrary to the Union's argument, the overlapping of officers on shift changes would n