SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION BALTIMORE, MARYLAND and AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SSA GENERAL COMMITTEE, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

and

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT
EMPLOYEES, SSA GENERAL COMMITTEE,
AFL-CIO

Case No. 95 FSIP 152

DECISION AND ORDER

       The American Federation of Government Employees, SSA General Committee, 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 Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland (Employer or SSA).

    After investigation of the request for assistance concerning a dispute over changes to SSA’s voluntary leave transfer program (VLTP) and establishment of a voluntary leave bank program (VLBP),(1) the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference by telephone with Panel Representative (Staff Attorney) Gladys M. Hernandez for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issues in dispute. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Ms. Hernandez would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the issues. Following consideration of this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

   Accordingly, Ms. Hernandez held a telephone conference with the parties on November 27, 1995. With her assistance, the parties resolved their dispute over Union audits of SSA’s VLTP. She has reported to the Panel on the one remaining issue based on the record developed by the parties. The Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer administers Federal retirement, disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs through its seven components. The Union represents a nationwide-consolidated bargaining unit of approximately 48,000 General Schedule and Wage Grade employees. The positions held by these employees include claims representative, service representative, teleservice representative, data review technician, benefit authorizer, social insurance specialist, plumber, carpenter, and electrician, among many others. They are covered by a master collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) which is due to expire in November 1996.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether a 1-year pilot of a VLBP should be implemented.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    Essentially, the Union proposes that the Employer establish a pilot VLBP under specified terms for "a minimum of 1 year."(2) Compared with a VLTP, a VLBP would: (1) provide more equitable treatment of employees in the distribution of leave, particularly for those employees that are unpopular, have "unpopular" diseases (e.g. AIDS, mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism), or are new to the agency and, therefore, not well known to their co-workers; (2) better protect an employee’s privacy; and (3) ensure that unused donated leave is not lost to employees (donors).(3) Having two Union representatives on the leave bank board would ensure vigilance in promptly advising employees as to changes in the law. This has not been the case in the recent past; in this regard, as late as June 1994, management failed to notify employees of changes in the VLTP brought about by the 1993 amendment to the law. Moreover, contrary to the Employer’s argument, a VLBP with two open enrollment periods would not be burdensome or costly to administer. In this regard, fewer than 500 applicants would be processed on any given year, if the number of requests for participation in the VLTP is any indication. Also, the availability of the VLBP would reduce employee participation in the VLTP, thereby lowering administrative costs; as a result, combined administrative costs would not be greater than what is incurred under the VLTP alone, as the Employer claims. The experience of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suggests that the Employer can successfully administer both leave sharing programs. In addition, the new payroll system the Employer will have in place by the spring of 1997 should facilitate the administration of the VLBP.(4) Overall, the VLBP would provide employees with "substantial benefits" without resulting in "significant and unavoidable costs" to the Employer.

    The Employer’s concern that only pregnant employees and those with low leave balances will join the VLBP is "very premature" and not based on fact. In this regard, the leave bank board could put controls in place to prevent this from happening.(5) The success of VLBP at other Federal agencies suggests that "a broad spectrum of employees" participate. The Employer also has provided no evidence to support its claim that the VLBP "is not needed." The "widespread" participation in VLBP by employees at other Federal agencies would seem to indicate that such programs are needed. The "new enhancements"(6) to the VLTP do not take care of the problem with the "inequity in the distribution of leave," and the Employer has not indicated when they will be implemented. Nor do they take care of employees’ privacy concerns. In this regard, the supervisor’s manual does not indicate that under the VLTP employees may have the SSA’s medical review officer (MRO), rather than their supervisors, review their applications. This option is not "common knowledge" in the field offices and payment centers. Finally, with both leave sharing programs in place, the Employer will be more "competitive with other Federal agencies and private industry for quality employees," and employees’ morale will increase.

2. The Employer's Position

    The Employer opposes the implementation of a permanent or pilot VLBP. A VLBP would be burdensome to administer, as an agency with such a program indicated to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).(7) Also, it would not be "cost effective" to implement a VLBP in addition to the VLTP currently in place. The cost to administer the VLTP for fiscal years (FY) 1991 and 92 totaled $216,404, including payroll administration, program coordination, and program costs. The cost for administering the VLBP would be "significantly more" than that because VLTP cost figures are dated, and a VLBP is more complex. Specifically, additional costs would be incurred for "more staff time" and the development of a new computer program to administer the VLBP. In this regard, HHS’s current payroll system cannot administer a VLBP, and it will not change its system because it will no longer be the Employer’s payroll agent by the spring of 1997. Manually administering a VLBP for 64,000 employees (as is the case with the VLTP) would be burdensome and would seriously compromise the integrity of the program. A computer program, therefore, would have to be developed to administer the program. The "significant costs" associated with VLBPs may have been a reason why Congress did not mandate their implementation, as it did with VLTPs.

    The Union has not demonstrated that the current VLTP is deficient in meeting employees’ leave sharing needs; in this regard, it has not shown that the number of complaints concerning the VLTP have been "overwhelming" or that those identified to management were not adequately addressed in these negotiations. The only evidence proffered by the Union is that "employees want it." In light of this, the Employer cannot justify implementing such a costly program in this era of "streamlining, budget cuts, and [spending on] a host of costly customer service enhancements."

    Contrary to the Union’s argument, it is unnecessary to implement a VLBP to protect employees’ privacy. The VLTP already does so by allowing them to have SSA’s MRO review their applications for leave donations. The VLTP also does not require employees to disclose their medical conditions in their solicitation for donations. With regard to the equitable distribution of donated leave, changes to the VLTP permitting SSA-wide solicitation of donations, and the absence of any disclosure requirement in solicitation forms "decrease the possibility" of employees’ receiving an unfavorable response to their solicitations for donations because of the nature of their particular illness or their lack of popularity. Finally, the benefits the Union suggests would accrue to employees under the VLBP will be "reduced" because: (1) pregnant women will "strain" the program, as they apparently do at OPM and the Central Intelligence Agency, and (2) participation in the program will not be significant because employees would rather participate only in the VLTP where they can determine who receives their leave donations.

CONCLUSIONS

    After carefully examining the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that the Union’s proposal provides the better basis for resolving this dispute. Preliminarily, we note that while the Employer opposes the implementation of a VLBP, it raises no objections to any of the particulars of the Union’s proposed program. Our examination of the record persuades us that the Employer’s concerns as to the potential costs and administrative burdens of a VLBP at SSA appear at this point to be merely speculative.(8) In our view, these concerns do not as yet outweigh the potential benefits that a VLBP may provide to employees, as reported by the Union and other Federal agencies.(9) In such circumstances, a 1-year pilot is appropriate because it should allow the Employer to collect data to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and the actual costs of its operation. If, on balance, its analysis of the data reveals that the program’s costs outweigh its benefits to employees, under the Union’s proposal the Employer may negotiate to terminate the program. Accordingly, we shall order its adoption.

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 A. Lafferty
Executive Director

December 21, 1995
Washington, D.C.

 

1.Under a VLBP, employees may donate some of their accrued annual leave to a bank for use by leave bank members in cases of medical emergencies. Under a VLTP, on the other hand, employees may donate such leave to specific co-workers experiencing a medical emergency.

2.Most of the provisions in the Union’s proposed VLBP were dictated by law or Government-wide regulations. 5 U.S.C. §§ 6361-6373 (1988), as amended by Act of Oct. 8, 1993; 5 C.F.R. §§ 630.1001-.1016 (1995). Among such provisions are those concerning the (1) number of leave bank board members; (2) duties and responsibilities of the board; (3) minimum leave contribution for membership in the bank; (4) limitations on leave contribution; (5) eligibility requirements for receipt of bank leave; and (6) application process. While the law requires a minimum of one Union representative on the board and one open enrollment period annually, the Union proposes two in both cases. 5 U.S.C. §§ 6364(a)(1), 6355(d); 5 C.F.R. §§ 630.1003(c), 630.1004(e).

3.Under a VLTP, if the number of donors exceeds the number of unused donated hours of leave, no leave is restored to the donors; in effect, the leave escheats to the Employer. 5 C.F.R. § 630.911(c). Under a VLBP, on the other hand, all such leave is restored to the bank. 5 C.F.R. § 630.1010(b).

4.During the telephone conference, the Employer’s representative advised that SSA is currently negotiating a new contract for handling its payroll, but is unsure whether that payroll system could handle leave bank activities.

5.5 C.F.R. § 630.1007(e) gives a leave bank board the authority to establish policies limiting the amount of leave that employees may be granted.

6.The new VLTP procedures agreed to by the parties as part of these negotiations will: (1) minimize the loss of unused donated leave; (2) allow leave recipients to monitor their donated leave balances to enable them to take appropriate action when close to exhausting leave; (3) allow for quick leave donation solicitations outside a leave recipient’s office; and (4) allow a donor to verify that leave donations have been credited to a leave recipient’s account.

7.OPM’s report to Congress entitled “Federal Employees Leave Sharing Act of 1988, Public Law 100-566,” dated April 30, 1993, (OPM Report), p.9.

8.We note that the only documentary evidence submi