DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEPENDENTS SCHOOLS ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA and FEDERAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, NEA

 

 

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DEPENDENTS

  SCHOOLS

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 96 FSIP 45

and

FEDERAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, NEA

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

      The Federal Education Association (FEA or Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute between it and the Department of Defense, Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Arlington, Virginia (DODDS or Employer). After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to arbitration before the undersigned. On April 9, 1996, after the parties discussed their respective positions, an arbitration hearing was conducted to complete the factual record of the case. The parties also submitted documentary evidence in support of their positions. The Arbitrator is satisfied that the parties have fully negotiated over the matter in dispute and that a decision is required to resolve the impasse. The record is now closed.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to provide education for military dependents overseas. The Employer operates schools in three geographic regions: Europe, Panama, and the Pacific. The Union represents approximately 7,000 bargaining-unit employees who work as teachers, nurses, and counselors in the Pacific and European regions, excluding Italy and Turkey. The parties are covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) which became effective on September 18, 1989; it continues in effect through an annual rotating renewal provision.

    The Employer hires teachers for overseas positions based on two types of categories: (1) CONUS, employees who are hired in the United States, and (2) local hires, those who are hired overseas. The benefits available to employees depend upon the category under which the employee is hired. Those hired from the United States enter into a transportation agreement wherein the agency will pay travel expenses of the new appointee and his or her family, and shipment of household goods from the United States to the overseas duty station. Upon completion of an agreed-upon period of service, the agency will also pay these same expenses from the overseas location back to the United States. Local hires normally consist of spouses of current Government employees who are stationed overseas, and they are listed as dependents on their spouse’s transportation agreement. Unlike CONUS employees, local hires do not receive any of the transportation allowances because they are already living overseas and do not require any further recruitment inducement.

    The essence of this dispute concerns a small number of employees who were originally hired under CONUS and later returned as local hires. Typically, a married couple will be hired under CONUS or two CONUS employees will marry, and each spouse will have a separate Renewal Agreement Travel (RAT). When they decide to have children, the wife will usually withdraw from employment to raise the children, and then seek return to DODDS several years later as a local hire. Because the husband has not disrupted his employment, he will be able to retire before the wife is eligible to do so. The current regulations require the husband either to use the moving benefits within 2 years of retirement, or it will be forfeited.(1) Both parties agreed that the shipment of household goods benefit is normally valued at approximately $20,000 tax-free.

    A previous Panel decision which dealt with the living quarters allowance (LQA) benefit provided that the LQA can be transferred from a retiring spouse to a teaching spouse who is within 7 years of retirement.(2)

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue in dispute involves whether household goods-moving benefits for overseas teachers should be transferred from a retiring spouse to a spouse with a later retirement date.

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes:

Unit employees who become eligible to have Living Quarters Allowance transferred to them as a result of Federal Service Impasses Panel decision 92 FSIP 17 & 103 will receive conditional eligibility only for separation travel and transportation of household goods to home of record. This eligibility for final shipment of household goods or final travel back to the United States is conditional upon receipt of verification that the retired spouse has not used the eligibility for any travel and/or transportation of household goods. There will be no duplication of benefits. There are three eligibilities: shipment of household goods, travel of retired spouse, and travel of spouse and dependents. Each benefit may only be used one time. After the date of this decision, the spouse assuming the benefits may not exercise return travel until his or her final separation from the Federal service.

This award will include those individuals already receiving LQA under the FSIP decision whose sponsoring spouses have already retired, to the extent that travel and/or final transportation of household goods has not been used and has not expired. There will be no duplication of return travel and transportation benefits.

The Union explained that it neglected to address the transportation benefits in the previous case before the Panel. During the negotiation process, it modified its proposal by excluding the benefit of return travel to the United States during the summer periods of every other year. Instead, its proposal is now limited to the shipment of household goods and the travel expenses for both spouses and their dependents.

    Between approximately 5 and 15 teachers would be affected by its proposal each year. The bargaining-unit employees merely ask for the ability to delay the receipt of the transportation benefits. More importantly, this proposal is cost neutral to the Employer; there will be no extra expense. The proposal will not provide any additional benefits to the employees; rather, the benefits are conditionally transferred to the unit employee who may exercise this eligibility upon final separation from Federal service, provided the benefits have not been exercised by the retired spouse.

    The vast majority of local hires are women who were originally hired stateside and left the Employer to raise their children. The regulation penalizes these women by not allowing them to retain their transportation benefits. Under the current regulations, the only way for the teaching spouse to receive transportation benefits is to show one of the following circumstances: (1) death of the retired spouse, (2) divorce or legal separation, or (3) retired spouse departed from the post or area permanently.(3) The Union believes that this regulation, as explained above, is contradictory to the public policy of promoting a married couple to keep its family intact. As anecdotal evidence, the Union provided the undersigned with a letter from a DODDS teacher who stated that the regulation is forcing her family to sell their overseas home, ship their household goods to the states, and place the goods in storage. As a result, the Employer is required to provide her with supplemental housing until she retires, which is an expense that would be unnecessary if her husband could transfer his transportation benefits to her.

2. The Employer’s Position

    There is no provision in the JTR to grant a transportation agreement and the accompanying right to ship household goods back to the