DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS RALPH H. JOHNSON MEDICAL CENTER CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA and LOCAL R5-136, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

RALPH H. JOHNSON MEDICAL CENTER

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 96 FSIP 70

and

LOCAL R5-136, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

 

 

ARBITRATOR'S OPINION AND DECISION

BACKGROUND

    Local R5-136, National Association of Government Employees (hereafter "NAGE" or "Union"), filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (hereafter "Panel") to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (hereafter "Statute"), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center, Charleston, South Carolina (hereafter "VA" or "Employer").(1) Following investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse relating to the dispute at issue should be resolved through the mediation-arbitration process and delegated the undersigned to engage in such process.

    Accordingly, on May 30, 1996, commencing at 9 a.m., representatives from NAGE(2) and the VA,(3) along with the undersigned engaged in a three-way telephone conference. Thereafter, the parties engaged in extensive mediation efforts/arbitration proceedings (hereafter "MED-ARB"), in which each side engaged in oral argument, entered exhibits, and had the opportunity to raise objections and contest the evidence presented by the other party. The mediation efforts were unsuccessful.

THE ISSUE IN DISPUTE:

    The sole remaining issue to be decided in the parties’ "Ground Rules Procedures for Negotiations,"(4) concerns how many members, in addition to the chief negotiator, will be included on each party’s negotiating committee when they meet to bargain over the local Supplemental Agreement.

    A. The Union's Position:

    The Union’s proposal as reflected at ¶4 of Union Exhibit 1, reads as follows:

"4. NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE: Each team may be composed of one (1) Chief Negotiator(5) and five (5) members at the discretion of the parties. The Chief negotiators are the heads of their respective committees and in this capacity will serve as spokespersons. The names of each negotiating team members will be exchanged at least fifteen (15) workdays prior to the beginning of negotiations. Alternates may be designated as necessary."

    In support of its proposal for five members to be on paid official time, the Union articulates that the scope of its representational responsibilities has expanded since the parties last negotiated a supplemental agreement in 1986;(6) when the Union was allowed up to four members to be on paid official time for a non-professional bargaining unit of employees.(7) Thus, the Union pointed out that in September 1995, it became the certified representative of a professional bargaining unit consisting of approximately 108 employees, and that it had also picked up an additional 17 non-professional employees at a second VA medical facility located in Savannah, Georgia,(8) around 100 miles from the Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center in Charleston, where the bulk of their bargaining unit members are employed.(9)

    In view of the second facility, the addition of the professional employees and the diverse nature of the job classifications represented, i.e., non-professional jobs such as security guards, nursing assistants, administrative assistants, clerical staff, housekeeping staff, and food service workers; and professional jobs such as accountants, pharmacists, and engineers -- the Union stressed that it needed the five members in order to adequately represent the interests of its broad and diverse bargaining unit.

    In further support of its five member paid negotiating team, the Union presented a sampling of other negotiated "Ground Rules Procedures" agreements from other VA facilities around the country asserting that they supported and justified the Union’s present proposal.(10) Finally, in response to the VA’s budgetary shortfall deficit argument, the Union offered to agree that none of its members would be entitled to receive overtime pay during their supplemental negotiations as long as the VA with appropriate advance notice of the identity of the Union negotiating members, would not schedule them for overlapping of shifts.(11)

    B. The VA’s Position:

    The VA’s proposal is identical to the Union’s proposal as quoted above, with the exception that it provides for two additional members aside from each Chief Negotiator, rather than the five proposed by the Union. As support for its proposal, the Employer asserted that since this was a supplemental negotiation rather than a master agreement being negotiated, the terms and conditions to be negotiated were not anywhere near as broad and complex, and could not justify anymore than two additional members for such negotiations. In addition, the Employer stressed that it was operating under a severe budgetary deficit for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1996; that had been reduced somewhat by self-imposed economic measures, i.e., total curtailment of overtime with exception of emergency situations, cutbacks on supplies, employment freeze, and moratorium on relocation authorizations(12) -- and, accordingly, could not afford the potential cost that might be incurred as a result of scheduling disruptions and consequent forced overtime that could be created by having any more than two additional members on the Union negotiating team. The VA further stressed that this was a patient-care issue where the best possible care of the patient was of the utmost importance; and in fulfilling its mission, the VA needed every possible employee to meet that mission. That the Union proposal for five additional members would have a detrimental impact on the VA’s coverage in providing optimum patient care.

    Finally, the Employer also argued that upon review of Union Exhibits 4(13) and 10,(14) it felt that they supported the Employer’s position rather than the Union’s in that at the Lexington, Kentucky facility, involving a bargaining unit almost twice the size of the one at issue, the Union was limited to a total of five team members that would include the chief negotiator; and at the Martinsburg, West Virginia facility, involving a bargaining unit a little bigger than the one at issue, the Union was limited to a total of four team members that would include the chief negotiator. For its part, in relation to the Lexington, Kentucky facility, the Union asserted that it involved two facilities with similar occupations, that were only five miles apart, whereas the Charleston and Savannah facilities were 100 miles apart. With regard to the Martinsburg, West Virginia facility, the Union pointed out that the bargaining unit there was totally non-professional, with no professional employees as involved at the Charleston VA facility.

Analysis and Conclusions:

    Having considered all the arguments and evidence presented on this issue, I conclude that a modification of both parties’ proposals is justified. The record reflects that there are approximately one-hundred (100) non-professional job classifications within the bargaining unit at the Charleston and Savannah facilities.(15) These non-professional job classifications can be broken down into three families of groups, to wit: clerical, health care and blue-collar employees. The record further reflects that there are approximately twenty-two (22) job classifications within the professional employees bargaining unit.(16) In regard thereto, the record indicates that the parties, during these supplemental negotiations, will, for the first time, be negotiating terms and conditions of employment involving professional employees, that had not previously been the case; along with potential terms affecting the Savannah facility that might be different from those at the Charleston facility. Finally, the record indicates that the bargaining-unit employees are under three compensation schedules, to wit: general schedule, wage grade system and another system applicable to certain employees within the unit.

    Accordingly, in view of the diverse nature and varied employment conditions of the bargaining-unit members, and pursuant to the employees’ statutory rights to effective collective bargaining representation, I find that the Union has established a legitimate justification to have more than the two members proposed by the VA, in addition to the Chief Negotiator for each team. However, I also find that the Employer has raised legitimate factors, i.e., budget deficits, lack of funding for overtime and patient care issues that need to be balanced with the Union’s proposal. In doing so, I note that the job classifications at the Savannah facility are similar, if not identical, to those at the Charleston facility.(17) Consequently, should the Union decide to forego the designation of a member of its team specifically from the Savannah facility, I do not believe it would be unduly prejudiced in providing effective representation. Finally, in addressing the Employer’s overtime and patient-care concerns, I find that the Union’s offer to forego overtime during the MED-ARB proceedings, and the parties’ cap on the length of negotiations adequately balance and address the Employer’s interests.

DECISION:

    The parties shall, effective immediately, implement and amend ¶4 of Union Exhibit 1, titled "GROUND RULES PROCEDURES FOR NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN VA MEDICAL CENTER, CHARLESTON, SC AND NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES LOCAL R5-136", to read as follows:

"4.(a). NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE: Each team may be composed of one (1) Chief Negotiator and four (4) members at the discretion of the parties. The Chief negotiators are the heads of their respective committees and in this capacity will serve as spokespersons. The names of each negotiating team members will be exchanged at least fifteen (15) workdays prior to the beginning of negotiations so as to provide the Employer with a sufficient amount of time to schedule its work shifts in an effective manner and so that members of the Union negotiating team do not have to work overlapping shifts.

(b). Members of the Union Negotiating Committee are not entitled to overtime. The Employer will arrange the release of such employees from their normal duty assignments so that they may participate in the negotiating sessions and any impasse proceedings."

Dated: June 17, 1996 

Gilbert Carrillo, Arbitrator

Miami, Florida 

 

1.The Employer is responsible for providing health care to veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center. The collective bargaining agreement (hereafter “CBA”) between the parties expired in May of 1995. However, the parties agreed to roll it over for another one-year period.

2.Appearances on behalf of NAGE were made by: George L. Reaves, National Representative; Fletcher Truesdell, Local 5-136 President; Walter Truesdell, Steward; and John Simmons, Steward.

3.Allan R. Graves, Chief, Human Resources Management Service, appeared on behalf of the VA.

4.See Union Exhibit 1, which reflects the parties’ having reached agreement on all ground rules procedures with the exception of the issue before the Arbitrator in this case.

5.It is significant to note that under the Union’s proposal, its Chief Negotiator shall not be paid by the VA; only the other members of its negotiating committee shall be on official time and hence paid by the VA.

6.See VA Exhibit 1.

7.See VA Exhibit 1, Article II, Section 2.

8.The parties have agreed to include the Savannah, Georgia facility as part of their negotiations for a Supplemental Agreement.

9.The parties estimate that there are approximately 535 non-professional employees currently in the bargaining unit, including those at the Savannah, Georgia facility. In this regard, see Union Exhibit 2, which is a compilation of the numbers of employees represented by NAGE at a sampling of VA facilities around the country. See also VA Exhibit 3, which provides a detailed breakdown of the job classifications and numbers of employees in each such classification for the bargaining unit that is the subject of the parties supplemental agreement negotiations.

10.See Union Exhibit Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 10.

11.It is also noted upon review of Union Exhibit 1, that the parties in an apparent positive effort to cap the time spent on the supplemental negotiations, agreed to limit to ten days the time that would be dedicated to the supplemental negotiations, including two days, if necessary, to enlist the services of a federal mediator to attempt to resolve their differences.

12.See VA Exhibit 2, dated April 10, 1996.

13.Lexington, Kentucky VA Medical Center.

14.Martinsburg, Wes