DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA MEDICAL CENTER MOUNTAIN HOME, TENNESSEE AND LOCAL 1687, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
VA MEDICAL CENTER
MOUNTAIN HOME, TENNESSEE
LOCAL 1687, AMERICAN FEDERATION
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
Case No. 96 FSIP 152
DECISION AND ORDER
Local 1687, 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 Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Medical Center, Mountain Home, Tennessee (Employer).
Following an investigation of the request for assistance, which involves the placement of two picnic tables on the grounds of the VA Medical Center, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through written submissions from the parties. Thereafter, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a Decision and Order. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.
The Employer is responsible for providing quality health care to veterans and their dependents. Approximately 1,385 people work in the Medical Center, 1,150 of whom are bargaining-unit employees. These employees work as nurses, doctors, dieticians, and social workers. They are General Schedule (GS) and Wage Grade (WG) employees ranging in grade from GS-3 through -13 and WG-2 through -11. The local supplemental agreement between the parties expired in 1973 and has been rolled over each of the subsequent years; the parties have recently completed negotiations for a successor master agreement.
The sole issue in dispute is whether two additional picnic tables should be placed on the grounds of the VA Medical Center.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes that "two picnic tables be placed on the grounds beside building 200 for use by employees." The tables are needed because 15 to 20 employees from the Nutrition and Food Service (NFS) regularly eat lunch and take smoking breaks in that area, and they do not have anything to sit on except either a masonry wall or the ground. The cost of purchasing the picnic tables would be relatively inexpensive.(1) For many years before the Canteen dining area was built, the NFS employees have taken breaks outside their normal work areas. In this regard, the employees also choose not to eat in the Canteen because they cannot afford to do so.
In the alternative, "[t]he Union would urge the adoption of at least a trial period of placement for the picnic tables with specific criteria being offered for evaluation of the situation in 90 days." This alternative proposal would enable the parties to evaluate advantages and disadvantages of placing picnic tables below the Canteen patio area. In particular, the parties could monitor the area to determine whether their use has resulted in a rat problem.
2. The Employer’s Position
The Employer argues that the parties should maintain the status quo, and that the Union should be ordered to withdraw its proposal. It would not be cost-effective to add two picnic tables at the proposed location because they would be in close proximity to the Medical Center’s Canteen patio and dining area. The Medical Center spent "a lot of money building this structure," and the patio area provides sufficient seating for employees to eat their meals. More importantly, the picnic tables may not even be accessible to employees from May 1997 to November 1999, due to a major construction project which is likely to require storage of the contractor’s equipment in that area. By encouraging employees to eat outside, the picnic tables could also exacerbate a rat problem, and be burdensome to the grounds-keeping employees who would be required to maintain the area. In addition, the presence of employees eating and loitering within sight of the mobile MRI van stationed nearby may not reflect the best image of the Medical Center.
Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we conclude that the Union’s proposal provides the more reasonable resolution of this dispute. In our view, the benefits to employees provided by the two picnic tables would outweigh the costs to the Employer. It is undisputed that employees already eat in the proposed location and that the cost of procuring the tables would be minimal. Moreover, the record evidence does not support the Employer’s contention that the picnic tables would trigger a rat problem, nor do we find that inordinate difficulties for the grounds-keeping employees would be created. Finally, assuming that construction begins in May 1997, the tables could be stored until the proje