DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY NAVAL FACILITIES ENGINEERING SERVICE CENTER PORT HUENEME, CALIFORNIA and FEDERAL UNION OF SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS, LOCAL R12-196, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY

NAVAL FACILITIES ENGINEERING

SERVICE CENTER

PORT HUENEME, CALIFORNIA

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 96 FSIP 50

and

FEDERAL UNION OF SCIENTISTS AND

ENGINEERS, LOCAL R12-196, NATIONAL

ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES,

SEIU, AFL-CIO

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

      The Federal Union of Scientists and Engineers, Local R12-196, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, AFL-CIO (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 the Navy, Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, Port Hueneme, California (Employer or NFESC). After investigation of the request for assistance, which concerns the relocation of the Employer’s offices to a newly-constructed building (Building 1100), the Panel directed the parties to mediation-arbitration before the undersigned. Accordingly, on July 25, 1996, I met with the parties at Port Hueneme, California. Before proceeding with mediation, I toured Building 1100, which unit employees have occupied since April 1996, as well as their old offices located in buildings dating back to World War II. Thereafter, with mediation assistance, the parties worked diligently to resolve the three issues at impasse, but were simply unable to do so. An arbitration hearing was conducted to complete the factual record of the case. During the hearing, the parties submitted their final proposals and were afforded the opportunity to present evidence and arguments in support of their positions. I instructed the parties that I would decide the dispute by selecting either of their final offers on an issue-by-issue basis. The record is now closed, and I have considered all the relevant information contained therein.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is the resulting activity following the consolidation of four Navy activities as ordered by the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Its mission is to provide specialized facilities engineering and technology support and services mainly to the Navy and other Department of Defense agencies. The Union represents approximately 303 General Schedule (GS) employees, the great majority of whom work as engineers in various specialties. The parties are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement which is due to expire on March 31, 1997, pursuant to a memorandum of understanding dated February 20, 1996.

    As noted above, I toured Building 1100 which employees currently occupy as well as the World War II buildings they previously occupied. I observed that the World War II buildings were generally one- or two-story structures which had been converted to offices. There were many smaller ones and one moderate-sized one, all of which had been converted from other uses. They had an abundance of space, allowing for 140- to 160-square-foot private offices which had been occupied by higher graded (GS-13 through -15) employees. There also were a few instances where two lower graded employees shared one office divided by partitions. The laboratories were in separate buildings, and there were separate offices for laboratory employees. As for restroom facilities, all of the smaller buildings have them. The larger two-story buildings have two sets of men’s and women’s restrooms on both the first and second floors; those on the first floor have three stalls, and those on the second floor have five. There also are two unisex restrooms in the auditorium area.

    Building 1100, on the other hand, has a large atrium in the center, with large restrooms located to the rear of the atrium area on both the first and second floors. The women’s restrooms have seven stalls, and the men’s restrooms have four stalls and three urinals. There also are women’s and men’s restrooms, with six stalls and three stalls and three urinals, respectively, in the shipping and receiving area, and a unisex restroom in a separate laboratory. With regard to offices, at each end of the building, there are open modular offices. Specifically, the large work areas at both ends of the building have been divided into 80-square-foot cubicles using modular panels; each cubicle was furnished with state-of-the-art modular furniture. In the work areas there also are service/storage corridors for file cabinets, book shelves, photocopy machines, et cetera. Finally, throughout the building, with a high concentration around the atrium area, there are 15 conference rooms equipped with telephones for employees’ use when they have meetings or need privacy.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over: (1) private offices for higher-graded bargaining-unit employees; (2) the assignment of office space; and (3) the number of restrooms in the building.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. Private Offices

a. The Employer’s Position

    Under the Employer’s proposal, unit employees would get 80-square-foot cubicles. Those unit employees in pay grades GS-13 and above would get 80-square-foot or larger private offices "on an individual basis where it is shown that the employee’s official Government duties require privacy." Disputes over assignment of private offices would be resolved under the parties’ negotiated grievance and arbitration procedures. Conference rooms are readily available and accessible to employees for meetings and telephone conferences if they require privacy. While it empathizes with employees over the lack of private offices, the new building is the best it could do with the funds allocated under austere Government budgets. Moreover, for flexibility, air movement, and lighting, it must use modular partitions; the height of the partitions maximizes air flow in the office. To reduce the noise level, it has installed special acoustical ceilings, rugs, and cubical dividers.

b. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes that, every 6 months, 15 to 20 unit employees in pay grades GS-13 and above get 80-square-foot private offices consisting of floor to ceiling or "slightly below" partitions and doors. The first group of employees to get them would be "those whose PDs [positions descriptions] indicate they are team leaders." Employees may get "larger offices . . . on an as-needed basis based on function and need." This proposal represents a substantial move from its original proposal for 150-square-foot private offices for the 85 employees at the higher pay grades. These employees need private offices because they require privacy when meeting with their team members to discuss projects and develop budgets, and talk to sponsors about confidential, financial, and contract issues. Also, they must have acoustical isolation in order to concentrate on the highly technical work they perform and to write reports. In sum, the new office configuration is inadequate because employees require private offices to be able to work effectively on confidential and sensitive issues with fellow employees and to discuss sensitive financial matters with sponsors.(1)

CONCLUSIONS

    After carefully weighing the evidence and arguments presented and spending a day in the employees’ work environment, I am not persuaded that all or most of the 85 higher graded employees require fully-enclosed offices with doors. In this regard, on the day of my visit: (1) the work environment was relatively quiet considering that about 250 employees work on each floor; and (2) voices did not carry when people spoke in a normal conversational tone. Moreover, employees’ privacy concerns are met because conference rooms are available for their use throughout the workday. Any inconvenience to employees of having to meet away from their offices where files and computers are readily available should be minor. In this regard, employees could obtain and organize the necessary data from their files and computers and take them to the conference rooms for their meetings. In my view, these professional and technical employees should have such organizing skills given that they often work off-site and take their files with them. Accordingly, I shall order adoption of the Employer’s final offer.

2. Assignment of Office Space

a. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes that offices be assigned by division (except for the Environmental Division where they would be assigned by branch) and based upon seniority at NFESC.(2) This is a "compromise approach giving effect to seniority and efficiency." Assignment by division is more efficient because divisions are small units of employees (5 to 20 of them) who generally work on the same projects.

b. The Union’s Position

    Under the Union’s proposal, office space would be assigned by department based upon "seniority within NFESC West Coast or its components." Departments are made up of two or more divisions. Because they are larger units, assignment by department would give senior employees significantly more options in their choice of office location. Moreover, since employees would not change offices every time work assignments change, assignment by division, as management proposes, would not meet the Employer’s interest in having employees working on the same project in the same area.

CONCLUSIONS

    Preliminarily, the parties agree that: (1) employees should be assigned office space based upon seniority; and (2) assignment of offices in the Environmental Department should be by branch. At issue is whether office assignments in other departments should be made by department or by divisions within each department. In my view, the facts support adoption of the Union’s proposal because employees do not change offices when assignments are changed or, for that matter, when new employees are hired; the need for employees to sit by division, therefore, does not appear to be as great as expressed by the Employer. Further, more choices for senior employees enhances the amount of control they can exercise over this new work environment; this is even more important given their loss of private offices. The arbitrator, therefore, adopts the Union’s offer on this issue.

3. Restroom Facilities

a. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes a total of 42 toilets and urinals in 4 work areas which have already been constructed. It also proposes that a joint labor-management study be conducted in April 1997 to determine whether additional restrooms are necessary given the level of usage. The number of restrooms available in the new building complies with the building code. While there are fewer restrooms in the new building than there were in the old buildings, the employees now are all located in the same building. The only reason there were restrooms in all the old buildings was for convenience. Finally, restrooms