SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION FINDLAY DISTRICT OFFICE FINDLAY, OHIO AND LOCAL 3448, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

FINDLAY DISTRICT OFFICE

FINDLAY, OHIO

AND

LOCAL 3448, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 96 FSIP 108

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 3448, American Federation of Government Employees, 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, Findlay District Office (DO), Findlay, Ohio (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance concerning the remodeling of the DO, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through written submissions from the parties. Thereafter, the Panel would issue a Decision and Order to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is responsible for taking and processing applications, and administering the programs for Social Security benefits, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) entitlements. In the Findlay DO, the Union represents approximately 11 General Schedule bargaining-unit employees who work as claims and service representatives. They are responsible for handling the administrative duties involved in processing and resolving claim requests. The parties’ collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) will expire on March 5, 1999.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties basically disagree over the following seven issues: (1) installation of a reception platform and ramp; (2) installation of barrier (or privacy) walls in the claims representative and reception areas; (3) elimination of a self-help area; (4) elimination of the storage/mailroom; (5) location of the assistant district manager’s (ADM) office; (6) location of the administrative aide (AA) workstation; and (7) elimination of the summer aide desk.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes the installation of a 10-to 12-inch platform and a 10-to 12-foot ramp in the reception area, primarily because "the ergonomic benefits far outweigh any cost factors." In this connection, when employees conduct interviews, the claimants are required to stand, which results in a poor angle of vision for the seated employees. Several Panel cases support the conclusion that "it would be better to have the employee being at eye-level with the public, rather than looking up." Also, it is not ergonomically safe for the employees either to stand or sit on stools, as the Employer proposes. Moreover, at least four other SSA offices in the region and four offices in the San Francisco Region have reached agreements to install a platform.

    In addition, the Union proposes to install floor-to-ceiling barrier walls with interviewing windows in the reception area, and 6-foot barrier walls with pocket doors in the claims representative area. This is necessary to prevent the public from entering the employees’ work area. Barrier walls would provide "optimum security [for the employees] while presenting an inviting atmosphere to the public." The need for greater security is supported by numerous newspaper articles which document the growing violence in SSA offices throughout the United States. In addition, with the impending termination of SSI payments to drug addicts and alcoholics, the amount of violence may increase.

    In regard to the remaining issues, it makes sense to eliminate the self help area, the storage/mailroom, and the summer aide’s desk, because the space can be used more efficiently. The self-help table can be moved to the waiting area, and the equipment in the storage/mailroom can be moved to other areas in the office. With respect to the ADM room, it should be relocated to the storage/mailroom, since the staffing plan indicates that the office is due to lose one of its two management personnel, which would ultimately result in an extra room. For that reason, if the AA workstation is moved to the current ADM office, there would be more work space for the employees. This would also provide better protection of confidential personnel files by creating "some separation of the AA unit from the general work area."

2. The Employer’s Position

    As its last best offer, the Employer proposes that its floorplan be adopted to resolve the parties’ dispute. This proposal "does not provide for a platform in the reception area," because the "construction would be an unnecessary expense; would defeat the design" of the reception area’s adjustable workstations "by limiting [their] flexibility; and . . . [would] not accommodate the needs of wheelchair visitors." The benefits of a platform are speculative and unsubstantiated by the Union, so the estimated $21,000 that it would cost is unjustified. Since the receptionist workstations allow work surfaces to be elevated from a low of 26 inches to a height of 40 inches, the employees will be able to conduct interviews either by standing or by sitting on ergonomic stools. This will significantly improve the employees’ angle of vision when they talk to claimants, and provide them with greater flexibility in obtaining files and computer printouts. Moreover, the height of the platform would cause the reception area to be inaccessible to claimants in wheelchairs, and may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Union’s proposal is also inconsistent with the current practice in the vast majority of SSA offices, including seven in the area surrounding Findlay, which do not have platforms.

    The Employer further proposes that the floorplan not include barrier walls, because "a continuous physical barrier of walls, partitions, file cabinets and/or desks [will] prevent access by the public to the areas where the employees work." This approach would provide employees with "reasonable and appropriate security and privacy while retaining a customer-friendly environment." It is also consistent with the fact that the Findlay DO is located in a quiet town with a low crime rate. In this regard, there has never been an incident of a violent nature in the office, and the impact of the terminated benefits for drug users and alcoholics on the office is likely to be minimal because it has a low number of such cases. Moreover, every interviewing workstation is equipped with a duress alarm in the event of an emergency.

    With respect to the remaining issues, the Employer proposes that the self-help area, storage/mailroom, and summer aide desk be included in the floorplan. This would enable it to provide better service to the public. Further, the ADM office should not be moved into the storage/mailroom because part of the ADM’s duties is to provide security by observing the interviewing areas. In this connection, since the ADM would not be able to observe the claims representative area from the storage/mailroom, the Union’s proposal "would excessively interfere with Management’s right to determine its internal security practices." For that reason, the AA workstation should not be moved into the current ADM office.

CONCLUSION

    Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that the Employer’s floorplan provides the more reasonable resolution of this dispute. In our view, the Union has failed to demonstrate a need to construct barrier walls in the Findlay DO. In this regard, the facility has no history of violent incidents and is located in an area with few crimes against persons. In addition, the Union’s concerns with respect to the termination of benefits for drug users and alcoholics appear to be speculative, particularly given the low number of such cases in the office. We also doubt that barrier walls would in fact provide a degree of protection sufficient to justify their expense. Moreover, after viewing the videotape of the Newark District Office provided by the Union, we are not persuaded that barrier walls with pocket doors are the only way of ensuring employee security while maintaining a customer-friendly environment in SSA offices.

    Similarly, the Union has failed to demonstrate a need to construct a platform and a ramp in the Findlay DO. Although there is evidence in the record that a platform may provide some ergonomic benefits to employees, we find that the new systems furniture with adjustable work surfaces would sufficiently accommodate any angle-of-vision problems, and that the additional expense of installing a platform and a ramp is, therefore, unwarranted. This result appears to be consistent with the practice in the vast majority of SSA offices throughout the United States. We are also concerned that a raised reception area may not be user-friendly for people in wheelchairs.

    From our perspective, the Employer’s proposal to maintain a self-help area, a summer aide desk, and the current storage/mailroom is the more reasonable approach because sufficient space is available, and they should assist the office in providing better customer service. Finally, there does not appear to be a need to relocate the ADM office or the AA workstation. Among other things, the ADM is properly situated to provide additional security by observing the interviewing areas. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s proposal to resolve the parties’ dispute.

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 under the Panel’s regulations, 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6(a)(2), the Federal Service Impasses Panel under &s