DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE GILLIS W. LONG HANSEN'S DISEASE CENTER CARVILLE, LOUISIANA AND LOCAL 100, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

AND HUMAN SERVICES

PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE

GILLIS W. LONG HANSEN'S

DISEASE CENTER

CARVILLE, LOUISIANA

AND

LOCAL 100, SERVICE EMPLOYEES

INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO

Case No. 95 FSIP 11

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 100, Service Employees International Union, 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, Public Health Service, Gillis W. Long Hansen's Disease Center, Carville, Louisiana (Employer).

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse arising from negotiations over a successor collective-bargaining agreement should be resolved on the basis of written submissions from the parties with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer provides inpatient and outpatient care for patients with Hansen's disease and conducts research into the disease and its treatments. Although outpatient services remain basically unchanged, no new long-term patients are being admitted to the Center. The Union represents 120 bargaining-unit employees who work as licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, clerks, and in maintenance and food service. The collective-bargaining agreement expired on August 29, 1994, but its provisions will remain in effect until the new agreement is in place.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue in dispute concerns the nature of the procedure the parties should follow for exchanging information and receiving Union input prior to a reduction in force (RIF) or transfer of function (TOF).

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

    a. The Union's Position

    The Union proposal reads:

Article XVI, Section 2. The Employer will apprise the Union within 5 days when it has been directed or proposes to conduct a RIF or TOF, or when plans or contingencies for a RIF or TOF are under consideration.

The Employer will keep the Union apprised of the development of the RIF or TOF plans prior to the submission of these plans for approval and will afford the Union an opportunity for comment and input to these plans prior to submission. A copy will be provided to the Union at the time it is submitted for approval.

Upon approval of RIF or TOF plans, the Union will be provided written notification.

Such a provision is particularly important since the Center is expected to decrease in size as the inpatient population ages; new patients are treated in outpatient facilities in an increasingly decentralized system. Historically, the Employer has shared little information with the Union prior to developing its RIF plans; it refused to provide the Union with information about sections and functions to be cut in July 1994 when it submitted a RIF plan for approval. Executive Order 12871 introduced a new era; the Union needs specific information before decisions are reached, otherwise it cannot become effectively engaged as a partner. With such information it can offer meaningful input based on the experience of bargaining-unit employees who understand day-to-day work processes. The Employer could be "warn[ed] of potential operational difficulties," helped to eliminate "inefficiencies," and challenged to maintain "equity" in its planning. Furthermore, the interests of bargaining-unit employees would be better served if they knew that employment uncertainties loom on their horizons, even if all of the specifics were not spelled out. Employees so informed could, for example, protect themselves financially by delaying a house purchase. Withholding information merely would allow rumors to fester.

    b. The Employer's Position

    The Employer's proposal is:

Article XVI, Section 2. The Employer will apprise the Union within 10 work days when it has been directed or proposes to conduct a RIF or TOF, and will accept comments from the Union for consideration. Upon approval of RIF or TOF plans, the Union will be provided written notification.

    The Employer asserts that the proper time for bargaining is after a RIF plan has been approved. Often proposed plans are delayed, disapproved, or subject to revisions that render them unrecognizable; in the meantime, rumors or mistaken interpretations about which positions may be cut could disrupt its operations. The Union wants specific information about position titles, series, and grades of positions proposed to be abolished by a RIF or affected by a TOF. It would be improvident to release what amounts to "specific pre-decisional planning data." If such information is revealed at the developmental stage, employees might reach mistaken conclusions that their positions are to be eliminated, morale problems would arise, and some employees might actually resign to take other jobs. Recent circumstances underscore the unreliability of unapproved RIF plans. In this regard, although it notified the Union in July 1994 that it had been directed to reduce the overall work force from 280 to 250, and forwarded a plan to headquarters in early August, management still awaits RIF plan approval. Under the Union's proposal, bargaining-unit employees might be unnecessarily harmed if they act prematurely based on fears about a RIF that never materializes or differs significantly from the preliminary plan. On the other hand, its proposal would maintain stability while offering much of what the Union wants: It would "give valid consideration to any proposed plan the Union may want to submit, prior to submitting its own plan, time permitting."

CONCLUSIONS

    After evaluating the evidence and arguments presented, we shall order the parties to adopt the Union's proposal to resolve the issue in dispute. We believe that the parties will benefit from the opportunity for open and frank communications about an upcoming RIF or TOF. As to the Employer's concern that the premature disclosure of information would be detrimental, we are persuaded that under the circumstances, both parties would act responsibly in deciding when to release information. Such a collaborative approach, in our view, is consistent with the directives of the Executive Order. Furthermore, the experience should encourage the parties to enter into new ways of working together in other areas as well.

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 following:

    The parties shall adopt the Union's proposal.

 

By direction of the Panel.

Linda