SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION BALTIMORE, MARYLAND and LOCAL 1923, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

and

LOCAL 1923, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 95 FSIP 71

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

BACKGROUND

    Local 1923, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), 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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland (Employer or SSA). After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to mediation-arbitration before the undersigned. A meeting was held with the parties on August 30, 1995. At the outset, the undersigned engaged in mediation efforts to assist the parties in resolving the two issues at impasse. With mediation assistance, one of those issues (establishing partnership councils at the Office of Facilities Management (OFM)) was resolved. On September 13, 1995, the parties submitted written statements on the remaining issue, including their written final proposals and arguments and evidence in support thereof.

   The Employer’s mission is to administer the Federal retirement, disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs for the public. This case concerns only OFM, the office responsible for the maintenance of all SSA Headquarters (HQ) buildings and grounds in Baltimore, Maryland. The Union represents approximately 350 OFM employees, who are part of a nationwide bargaining unit of approximately 48,000. They occupy such positions as space manager, secretary, physical security analyst, safety and occupation health specialist, plumber, carpenter, electrician, laborer, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, and custodial worker, among others, in pay grades GS-2 through -12 and WG-5 through -12. The parties are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) between SSA and AFGE due to expire in November 1996.

    This case relates to the Employer’s decision to reorganize OFM as part of streamlining efforts consistent with the President’s Memorandum, "Streamlining the Bureaucracy," dated September 11, 1993. Under the new OFM organizational structure, such services as security operations, environmental health, asbestos, safety, and architectural and engineering support will be available to customers on site at each HQ facility. As a result, according to the Employer, 18 employees will have to be relocated from one HQ building to another. The parties negotiated over such relocations pursuant to section 5.F. of the Memorandum of Understanding between SSA HQ and AFGE, dated July 28, 1994.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over the selection procedure for relocating employees.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes the following:

1. Reassignments/relocations will be based upon qualifications and experience, not solely limited to position descriptions. If the Employer determines there are more equally qualified individuals than the number of positions to be filled in a specific position, volunteers will be solicited. Selections among those qualified volunteers will be based upon service computation dates (SCD).

2. Should the number of qualified volunteers exceed the number of reassignments/relocations positions available, the Employer shall normally select the qualified volunteer with the most seniority. Should there be an insufficient number of qualified volunteers, management shall normally select the qualified employees with the least seniority to fill any excess positions. Seniority will be determined by SCD.

The Employer sets forth three "positive factors" in support of its proposal. First, it would have the "vast majority" of OFM employees "following their former assignments so as to provide continuity on key OFM projects." Second, the new organizational structure "reduces" the number of supervisory levels and supervisors in compliance with the President’s Memorandum referred to above. Finally, the new structure "eliminat[es] the need for [OFM] customers to go to multiple sources to get their requirements met," which is "responsive to the [SSA] Commissioner’s major goal of providing ‘world class’ customer service."

    Under the Union’s proposal, it would have to move employees in a way that would "seriously inhibit" its ability to service its customers and carry out its mission "in the most effective manner." In this regard, each HQ building has its own "unique characteristics and problems along with staff that possesses the historical [and] institutional knowledge to address them." The services provided to customers would be disrupted "while employees are learning different building systems, new institutional history and problems, etc." Such disruption "could create a serious public relations problem." As an example, the Union’s proposal would result in the replacement of the space manager currently "attached" to the "multi-million[-dollar] renovation project underway at the Security West facility" who is "intimately aware" of the project’s history and problems. This "critical project" cannot afford the loss of such "a valuable institutional resource."

2. The Union’s Position

    In essence, the Union proposes that the Employer, in selecting employees for reassignment to another component or another building, first "solicit volunteers from those positions required (i.e., employees who perform the same work and who are equally qualified)." If there are more volunteers than positions available, the Employer is to "normally select" the most senior qualified employee; if the number of positions exceed the number of qualified employees, the Employer is to "normally select" the least senior employee for positions not filled by volunteers. Seniority would be based on SCD. "[N]on-selection must be based on consistent and fair qualification factors contained in the position description or classification standard." The proposal also allows the parties to bypass the employee with the "highest selection priority" by mutual agreement if to do otherwise would "create/aggravate a hardship;" if the parties cannot agree, the Employer may go forward with "its selection," but it is "subject to" the grievance/arbitration provision in the CBA. The Employer’s reasons for selection or non-selection are to be provided to the employee in writing upon request. Finally, the proposal allows for an employee to file "a statutory classification appeal of their position."

    This proposal is an "appropriate arrangement" for employees adversely affected by the reassignment relocations. In earlier decisions, the Panel found similar proposals "to be reasonable and to promote fairness and equitable treatment to employees affected by the exercise of management’s actions." See, for example, Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Lansing District Office, Lansing, Michigan and Local 3272, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Case No. 90 FSIP 221 (September 1, 1992), Panel Release No. 335 and Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Visalia and Bakersfield District Offices, Visalia and Bakersfield, California and Local 3172, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Case Nos. 89 FSIP 140, 89 FSIP 225, and 89 FSIP 230 (November 14, 1989), Panel Release No. 287.

    The Union notes that as a result of the reorganization some employees will experience not only a change in work location but also a change in duties, a loss of promotion potential, and financial hardship. It provided a number of examples of employees who will be adversely affected by the reorganization. In this regard, two physical security analysts and a space manager now stationed in the Operations Building will have to pay for parking (a minimum of $45 per month) or public transportation when they are relocated to the Metro West Building in downtown Baltimore. No longer will all five safety and occupational health (SOH) specialists in the Environmental Protection Branch perform both functions of the job. Rather, two will conduct safety inspections, while the other three will write policies and regulations. Those SOH specialists selected to write policies and regulations have greater opportunity for promotion outside of the health and safety area than the others. This is so because writing policies and regulations is a "large function of many positions in the Agency." With regard to space managers, whose relocation "occupied significant discussion during the hearing and was the focal point of each side advocating its proposal," the Employer argued that the Union’s proposal is unacceptable because it would "eliminate from contention" for relocation to the Security West facility the "incumbent space manager" who has been overseeing its renovation. At the same time, however, the Employer admitted that another space manager whom it would move to the Metro West facility holds "the special qualifications" to oversee those renovations. As for the electricians, they will be assigned to one of two newly-created sections -- the Division of Building and Renovation Services (DBRS) and the Electric Section. Those assigned to DBRS will have "a disproportionate amount of overtime available to [them]." In sum, the reassignments and relocations will "dramatically impact" the morale, productivity, promotional opportunity, and finances of employees. The selection process, therefore, "should be objective, rather than arbitrarily directed."

    The Employer proposes that relocations be "based upon qualifications and experience, not solely limited to position descriptions." It has repeatedly refused to "define or identify" what those other qualifications and experience are, but would not say why such matters "should remain the privileged information of management." This allows it to use "surreptitious factors as selection criteria, which deprives those in consideration of any objective procedure." The Employer’s proposal, therefore, "represents nothing more than an attempt at unfettered discretion in the selection process without a bona fide effort to balance the needs of the facility and ... of employees."

CONCLUSIONS

    Having reviewed the record before me, I conclude that a modified version of the Employer’s proposal should provide the best resolution to the dispute. Preliminarily, I note that the parties do not dispute that seniority will be the basis for selection of qualified employees for relocation to positions at different HQ facilities. Rather, their dispute appears to center on what is meant by "qualified." Under the Union’s proposal, "non-selection" of the senior employee for a particular position "must be based on consistent and fair qualification standards contained in the position description or classification standard"(hereafter jointly referred to as PD).(*) By its plain meaning, this wording would require the Employer to consider the employee "qualified" merely if he or she meets the qualification standards set forth in the PD. In other words, in determining whether an employee is "qualified" for a particular position, the Employer would be precluded from considering any job-related qualifications or experience which the employee possesses or lacks if it is not identified in the PD. The Union’s discussion of the matter supports this interpretation. The Employer’s proposal, on the other hand, specifically allows it to consider any unique qualifications and experience that employees may possess which are not identified in the PD. This permits the Employer to relocate employees to buildings where their unique skills and abilities are most needed or can be best utilized. In my view, this is simply good business practice because it gives some assurance that (1) operational efficiency at each facility will be maintained and (2) services to customers will continue to be provided with minimal, if any, disruption. I believe, however, that in fairness to employees and to maintain the integrity of the selection process, the Employer should disclose the qualifications and experience outside of those set forth in the PD which it relied upon in selecting an employee for a particular position. The Employer does not give a reason why only it should have such information. Hence, I will modify the Employer’s proposal to require it to identify in writing such information when requested in writing by an employee or the Union.

DECISION

    The parties shall adopt the Employer’s proposal modified as follows:

1. Reassignment/relocations will be based upon qualifications and experience, not solely limited to position descriptions (PD). If the Employer determines there are more equally qualified individuals than the number of positions to be filled in a specific position, volunteers will be solicited. Selections among those qualified volunteers will be based upon service computation dates (SCD).

2. Should the number of qualified volunteers exceed the number of reassignment/relocations positions available, the Employer shall normally select the qualified volunteer with the most seniority. Should there be an insufficient number of qualified volunteers, management shall normally select the qualified employees with the least seniority to fill any excess positions. Seniority will be determined by SCD.

3. Upon written request from an employee or the Union, the Employer will identify in writing the qualifications and experience outside of those set forth in the PD which it relied upon in selecting an employee for a particular position.

 

Gladys M. Hernandez

Arbitrator

October 13, 1995

Washington, D.C.

 

*.I note that similar wording is not found in the proposals ordered by the Panel in the cases cited by the Union in support of its proposal. In fact, in both of those cases, as well as others involving selection procedures, it was made clear to the Panel by the parties that the employer would determine whether employees were qualified for reassignment to other duty stations. Also, while I believe the negotiability of the Union’s proposal is questionable, my decision in this case is based solely on an evaluation of the merits of each party’s proposal. See, for example, Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland and American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, 21 FLRA 735 (1986).

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