DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS VICKSBURG DISTRICT VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI and LOCAL 3310, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS

VICKSBURG DISTRICT

VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 95 FSIP 73

and

LOCAL 3310, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

BACKGROUND

    The Department of the Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Employer or Agency) and Local 3310, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) 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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119. After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to mediation-arbitration by telephone with the undersigned. A telephone conference was held with the parties on July 18, 1995. At the outset, the undersigned engaged in mediation efforts to assist the parties in resolving the two ground rules issues at impasse. With mediation assistance, the parties resolved one of those issues (the schedule for ground rules and successor agreement negotiations). On July 24, 1995, the parties submitted written statements on the remaining issue, including their written final proposals and arguments in support thereof.

    The Employer operates and maintains locks, dams, and flood control projects in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It also operates seven lake field projects which are used primarily for recreation. The Union represents a bargaining unit of approximately 665 General Schedule and Wage Grade employees who work in a variety of occupations such as maintenance worker, park ranger, power plant electrician, and civil engineering technician, among others; almost half of them are stationed in the Vicksburg area. The parties' 1980 collective-bargaining agreement remains in effect until a successor agreement is implemented.

    The dispute, which arose during negotiations over ground rules for successor agreement negotiations, was submitted to the Panel pursuant to the terms of a settlement of an unfair labor practice charge which was facilitated by the Atlanta Regional Office of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Following resolution of this case, the parties will return to the table to conclude their negotiations over ground rules.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over who should pay the travel expenses and per diem allowances for Union negotiators during ground rules and successor negotiations.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer proposes to allow field employees serving as Union negotiators the use of Government-owned vehicles (GOV) for transportation from their duty stations to Vicksburg, including "necessary local transportation to and from temporary lodging and eating establishments" and return trips to their duty stations "on intervening weekends" during each 3-week session in contract negotiations. It will pay all expenses related to their use of GOVs, including "rental fees, fuel, and necessary maintenance." The Union, however, will be responsible for the lodging, food, and miscellaneous expenses of its representatives.

    Under this proposal, the Employer will "absorb" an amount estimated at $43,246 for transportation and "to overcome cost of productive time" in addition to "official time salaries" for 3 specified Union representatives in both ground rules and contract negotiations. The Union, on the other hand, will expend only 1/6 of that amount, or $10,920. It is "reasonable" for the Union to bear such costs because it has "chosen" negotiators from "some of the most remote field locations," even though almost half of all employees in the bargaining unit are stationed in the Vicksburg area and are available for negotiations at no travel-related cost to either party. As a "partner," it is "incumbent upon the Union to either do as the Agency is doing (i.e., use negotiators located in Vicksburg)" or pay the cost of having field employees as Union negotiators.

    With regard to the Union’s proposal, it will not "substantively" reduce costs because it will still require the Employer to release field employees for negotiations and pay their expenses while in Vicksburg. Also, it is "void of any real commitment" on the part of the Union to share the cost of bringing field employees to Vicksburg for negotiations.

2. The Union’s Position

    In essence, the Union proposes that "except in rare or uncontrollable instances" (for example, illnesses or personal problems), it will make "every reasonable effort to use a maximum of two unit employees" stationed at remote work sites, e.g., Monroe and DeGray Lake field offices.(1) "As often as possible," one of these employees will be a specified individual from the Monroe Field Office provided the Employer allows him to use a GOV, pays his meal expenses "as determined by the Joint Travel Regulations (JTRs)," and keeps him on pay status "from his departure from his work place until he returns from negotiations in Vicksburg."(2) When the parties address issues "that directly involve conditions of employment unique to remote sites," the Union will limit its negotiators from remote sites to "a maximum of three," and "whenever possible" one of them will be the same individual referenced earlier and his expenses will be paid as set forth above. With regard to the other negotiators from remote sites, it proposes that the Employer (1) pay them per diem at the current JTR rate and (2) allow them to use GOVs for travel to and from Vicksburg or pay their travel expenses during the entire negotiation process, which includes "preparation, mediation, impasse, ratification, and training on the contract." Overall, this proposal is "fair and reasonable." It will lead to a "fair and equitable contract," which is in the best interest of the Employer, the Union, and taxpayers alike.

    The Employer should pay the Union negotiators’ travel expenses and per diem allowances because, while the Union must represent all unit employees, not all of them are dues paying members or willing to volunteer for contract negotiations. The Employer has failed to identify to the Union any unit employees in the Vicksburg area willing to participate in contract negotiations. The Union, however, remains willing to work with the Employer to keep costs to "a practical minimum." It estimates the cost to the Employer under its proposal at $10,000, or ".00003333 percent ... of its budget over a 3-year period." In the long run, this expenditure will save the Employer money because "the better the contract," the less money it will have to spend in third-party proceedings. Moreover, other Government agencies, including, among others, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pay union negotiators’ travel and per diem for contract negotiations.

    If the Union’s negotiators stationed at remote sites are denied travel expenses and per diem allowances, as the Employer proposes, the Union, the Employer, and taxpayers will suffer. In this regard, the Union’s funds are "very limited," as the Employer is well aware, and the Union negotiators cannot assume such costs without great financial hardship.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having reviewed the record before me, I conclude that a modified version of the Union’s proposal provides the best resolution to the dispute. Generally, I agree with the Employer that it is reasonable to require parties to share costs associated with negotiations in which they have an equal stake. In this case, however, I am persuaded that (1) both the Union and its designated negotiators lack sufficient financial resources to assume even a portion of the travel expenses and per diem allowances; and (2) there is an insufficient number of Union members in the Vicksburg area willing to participate in negotiations. Under such circumstances, a cost-sharing requirement would substantially limit the Union’s ability to select its negotiators, while the Employer will be under no such constraint. This would give the Employer an unfair advantage in negotiations. Moreover, I am convinced that the Union will make a sincere effort to keep costs to a minimum; therefore, the cost to the Employer may not be as great as it now estimates. I will, however, modify the Union’s proposal to require it to pay its negotiators’ travel expenses and per diem allowances related to negotiations necessitated by the Union members’ failure to ratify all or part of the negotiated successor agreement. In my view, it is fair for the Union to assume costs it incurs because of the actions of its ratifiers. Also, it promotes the Union negotiators’ taking an active role in persuading the membership to ratify the resulting agreement. Overall, I believe this proposal should bring some pressure to bear on both parties to conduct effective and responsible negotiations. Finally, I encourage the parties to use a collaborative approach in upcoming ground rules and successor negotiations for which they have already received training.

DECISION

    The parties shall adopt the Union’s proposal modified to require it to pay all its negotiators’ travel expenses and per diem allowances related to negotiations necessitated by the Union membership’s failure to ratify all or part of the negotiated successor agreement.

 

Gladys M. Hernandez

Arbitrator

August 2, 1995

Washington, D.C.

 

1.The Union provided a list of seven “primary and alternate” negotiators, two of whom are stationed in Vicksburg. It contends that it provided this list in response to the Employer’s “original list” of 10 bargaining team members.