DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA CONNECTICUT HEALTH CARE SYSTEM NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT AND LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO

 

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

VA CONNECTICUT HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT

AND

LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES,

SEIU, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 96 FSIP 125

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local R1-109, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, AFL-CIO (Union), filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) pursuant to the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982 (Act), 5 U.S.C. § 6120 et seq., to resolve an impasse arising from the determination of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Va Connecticut Health Care System, Newington, Connecticut (Employer), not to establish a pilot 4-10 compressed work schedule (CWS)(1) for police officers at the Newington, Connecticut, campus, as proposed by the Union.

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through written submissions. After considering the parties’ submissions and rebuttal statements, the Panel would take final action in accordance with § 6131(c) of the Act and § 2472.11 of its regulations. Pursuant to the Panel's determination, the parties’ written submissions and rebuttals were received and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates an "integrated," two-campus hospital facility for veterans: the larger, mainly inpatient facility is located at West Haven about 45 minutes by car from the smaller, primarily outpatient facility at Newington, Connecticut. Local R1-109 represents approximately 200 bargaining-unit employees who are in 2 nationwide units of 2,928 (Wage Grade) and 8,574 (General Schedule), respectively. The outcome of the dispute will affect 5 police officers located at the Newington Campus, who patrol the buildings and grounds; another 11 police officers located at the West Haven Campus are represented by a different union.(2) The parties are covered by a master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) which is due to expire in May 1998, and a local agreement which tracks the MCBA with respect to its expiration. The parties also entered into a "Compressed and Alternative Work Schedule Agreement" (AWS agreement) in 1993 which provides for the establishment of compressed work schedules on a work-unit basis.(3)

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The specific issue before the Panel is the following:

Whether the agency head’s findings on which the Employer has based its determination not to establish the Union's proposed 4-10 CWS pilot are supported by evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an adverse agency impact as defined under the Act.(4)

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    At present, police officers at the Newington and West Haven campuses work the same three standard 8-hour shifts: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.(5) The proposed CWS would place the two segments of the police force on "incompatible" schedules, thereby disrupting management’s ability to reduce overtime costs by assigning officers interchangeably between the two campuses. In this regard, overtime is assigned every week to cover for police officers at Newington who call in at the last minute to request annual and sick leave. When officers at Newington are unavailable to fill in for such unplanned absences, officers from West Haven have been directed there during their regular tours of duty. Although the Union grieved two such instances, the parties’ 1991 overtime agreement "does not prohibit the agency from sending police officers from West Haven to Newington." In addition, since the full tour of duty would be 10 hours, all shifts at Newington would be extended by 2 hours, thereby increasing overtime costs and "reducing the officer’s . . . ability to react in security compromising situations." Finally, CWS are not working well at the two facilities cited by the Union. At the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Beckley, West Virginia, during a 6-month period under a CWS, employees accrued 695 overtime hours for unplanned absences; at the Submarine Base, Groton-New London, Connecticut, the employer only avoids overtime costs because it has the option of covering vacant shifts with military police. Also, their similarities to Newington are doubtful because neither facility has to coordinate work schedules with additional locations.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes that the five police officers at the Newington Campus be permitted to participate in a 6-month pilot to test a 4-10 CWS. Basically, the Employer has not established that the schedule would have an adverse agency impact. In this regard, since the schedule has yet to be subjected to a trial, the evidence the Employer presents is speculative at best. Furthermore, such schedules are being used successfully for police officers at Groton and Beckley where they have been in place for at least 2 years. As to police officers from West Haven filling in at Newington, the parties have yet to bargain over how detailing officers at the two facilities would be coordinated. Moreover, currently, West Haven police officers are not covered by the overtime rotation list established under the Newington overtime agreement. Regarding "burnout" problems, officers at Newington routinely work 16-hour tours known as "doubles" and sometimes work over 24 hours at one time. Finally, the predicted coordination problems present a "one-way" view of the matter. Officers at West Haven recently obtained the contractual option to bargain over CWS and, contrary to the Employer’s statement, several have expressed an interest in such schedules. The Employer’s calculations related to sharing of staff also do not take into account travel time between the two facilities.

CONCLUSIONS

    Under § 6131(c)(2) of the Act, the Panel is required to take final action in favor of the head of the agency's or, in this instance, his delegatee's determination not to establish a CWS if the findings on which it is based are supported by evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an "adverse agency impact."

    Having considered the record before us, we find that the Employer has not met its statutory burden under the Act. In this regard, the Employer’s statements chiefly consist of concerns rather than evidence that the schedule is likely to cause an adverse impact. For example, the information presented does not establish that the 4-10 CWS would prevent coordination of geographically separated segments of the police force. To meet such cost-saving goals, management might, among other things, engage in additional bargaining to solve coordination problems jointly. Furthermore, contrary to the Employer’s position, under a pilot CWS, it is possible that current difficulties relating to unplanned leave requests could subside if employees schedule medical appointments and other personal errands on their off days, thereby reducing the need for overtime assignments. We also find that the comparability data presented is inconclusive. The parties have not analyzed the differing security needs at the various facilities, nor does the record indicate to what degree overtime use at Beckley has increased since the CWS was instituted, or how much additional coverage military police are providing at Groton under such schedules. More importantly, however, the actual effect of the proposed 4-10 schedule on overtime use is not yet known, so a test of CWS is warranted in these circumstances. Finally, we note that, should an emergency arise, the parties’ AWS agreement permits the Employer to return employees to regular schedules while it negotiates with the Union on an expedited basis. Accordingly, in light of the insufficiency of the evidence presented and the prospect that the data generated by the pilot should provide a better basis on which to determine the impact of the schedule, we shall order the parties to negotiate over the Union’s proposed 4-10 pilot CWS.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act, 5 U.S.C. § 6131(c), the Federal Service Impasses Panel, under § 2472.11(b) of its regulations, hereby orders the parties to negotiate over the Union’s proposal.

 

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky

Executive Director

January 6, 1997

Washington, D.C.

 

1.Under a 4-10 CWS, employees work four 10-hour days and take one off-day each week.

2.Four supervisors also work at West Haven.

3.The AWS agreement, among other things, (1) establishes an additional standard for adverse impact--"diminished level of patient care due to availability of staff" and (2) in situations of emergency or adverse impact, permits the Employer, with reasonable notice, to return employees to core hours effective the next pay period and then engage in expedited negotiations.

4.Under § 6131(b), "adverse agency impact" is defined as:

(1) a reduction of the productivity of the agency;

(2) a diminished level of the services furnished to the public by the agency; or

(3) an increase in the cost of agency operations (other than a reasonable administrative cost relating to the process of establishing a flexible or compressed work schedule).

The burden of demonstrating that implementation of a proposed AWS is likely to cause an adverse agency i