DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY PUGET SOUND NAVAL SHIPYARD BREMERTON, WASHINGTON and LOCAL 6, PLANNERS-ESTIMATORS, PROGRESSMEN, AND SCHEDULERS, IFPTE, AFL-CIO

 

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY

PUGET SOUND NAVAL SHIPYARD

BREMERTON, WASHINGTON

and

LOCAL 6, PLANNERS-ESTIMATORS,

PROGRESSMEN, AND SCHEDULERS,

IFPTE, AFL-CIO

Case No. 96 FSIP 156

 

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

    Local 6, Planners-Estimators, Progressmen, and Schedulers, IFPTE, AFL-CIO (PEPS or Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse between it and the Department of the Navy, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington (Employer) under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119. After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the dispute to the undersigned for mediation-arbitration by telephone. Pursuant to this procedural directive, a telephone conference was held with the parties on January 14, 1997. At the outset, mediation was used in an attempt to resolve the outstanding ground rules issue. When those efforts were unsuccessful, an arbitration hearing was conducted. During that proceeding, the parties were given an opportunity to present their final proposals and to argue in support of their positions. The record is now closed, and I have considered all of the information contained therein.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to repair and overhaul ships for the Department of the Navy. The bargaining unit consists of approximately 320 employees who work as planners-estimators, ship progressmen, and ship schedulers. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement was due to expire in June 1991, but remains in effect at the present time.

    In this case, the parties have reached impasse following negotiations over ground rules for a planned reorganization. Under the proposed conversion plan, which has yet to be revealed in its entirety, planners-estimators, progressmen, and schedulers would be converted to engineering technicians, with their former positions eliminated. At this point, the Employer has taken two preliminary steps in preparation for the reorganization. First, in September 1996, it detailed approximately 200 unit employees to engineering technician positions, which are included in a bargaining unit that is represented by another union. Around that same time, a reduction in force was implemented, which affected a number of unit employees, including the Union’s chief negotiator.

    At this point, both parties have expressed an interest in bargaining the substance of the reorganization. They have explored the possibility of using interest-based bargaining, but remain deadlocked on the issue of confidentiality.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue in dispute is whether substantive negotiations over the proposed reorganization should be confidential.

THE PARTIES’ POSITIONS

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer’s final proposal is:

The parties agree that bargaining or any related discussions will not be done in any public forum, i.e., media or with any individuals/parties other than the Employer, the Union, and its membership. The Union will affirmatively commit their membership to honor this agreement.

Management will utilize the Joint Labor-Management Committee process for communicating with employees regarding matters relating to the cross-training and conversion as discussed with other exclusive bargaining units. Management will accept PEPS Local 6 (the Union) on this committee.

The Employer asserts that it wants to return to the table to conduct substantive bargaining regarding cross-training and conversion issues in order to address the competitive demands of the changing industry. These issues are very sensitive, as they affect the working lives of 2,000 employees in three unions, including those represented in this bargaining unit. The Employer’s desire is to negotiate in an open and trusting environment at the bargaining table. It believes that discussion of these sensitive issues outside the shipyard leads to polarization and will impede successful resolution of the issues; it recognizes, however, the Union’s need, and right, to discuss the negotiations internally. Since the Employer and other unions have established a joint labor management communication mechanism, the Employer invites, and urges, the Union to join that effort so that solutions to the cross-training and conversion issues are jointly communicated. Finally, the Employer stresses that in addition to having a polarizing effect on the parties, external discussions in this small community detract from the efficient and effective running of government.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union’s final proposal is as follows:

The Union negotiating team will not disclose the specific details related to negotiations, except the Union reserves the right to discuss, develop and provide specific details related to the negotiations to the Union leadership (including the international union leadership), the Union membership and the Union legal [counsel].

The Union reserves the right to provide the informational updates to the Union leadership, the Union membership, legal [counsel], general public and other non-specified groups or individuals.

The Employer will not disclose the specific details related to negotiations, except the Employer reserves the right to discuss, develop and provide specific details related to the negotiations to the shipyard leadership, specifically, the following managers/department heads: C/100, C/200, C/1100, C/1110, C/1112, C/240, C/244, C/245, C/246, C/250, C/260, and C/270.

The Union argues that the conversion plan will have a significant impact on both the bargaining unit and the Union, and it has been prevented from negotiating over the substance of the plan because the Employer has insisted on confidentiality. The Union points to its right to communicate and publish disputes with management and cites two Federal Labor Relations Authority decisions in support of that position.(1) Its right to publish is a fundamental right of this democracy and a basic principle of labor-management relations, and it is not prepared to give up these rights. However, the Union does concede that "it is better for negotiations if there is no contact with the press." Finally, although the Employer has modified its proposal, the Union maintains that it remains overly broad and unlawful, and urges the arbitrator to reject it.

CONCLUSIONS

    The pivotal question is whether the parties need a written ground rule regarding confidentiality. After carefully considering this matter, I conclude that they do not. During the proceeding, the parties stipulated that they have no other written ground rules. This issue arose following discussions over the bargaining process when the Employer provided a written proposal in response to the Union’s request.

    In thoroughly exploring the issue with the parties, it is obvious that both sides are desirous of returning to the table to commence negotiations on the substance of the conve