DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA CONNECTICUT HEALTHCARE 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 HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT

and

LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU,

AFL-CIO

Case No. 97 FSIP 9

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local R1-109, National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), SEIU, AFL-CIO (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 Veterans Affairs, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Newington, Connecticut (Employer) resulting from an agency determination not to establish a compressed work schedule under the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982 (Act), 5 U.S.C. §§ 6120-6133.

    After investigation of the request for assistance, which concerns the establishment of a third shift in the Facilities Management Service, the Panel asserted jurisdiction over the work schedule issue under the Act and over the other issues in the case in accordance with the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119. It then directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with a Panel representative for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issues. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, the representative would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute and would make recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take final action in accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 6131 and 5 C.F.R. § 2472.11 with respect to the work schedule issue, and whatever action it deemed appropriate, including the issuance of a binding decision, with respect to the other issues in the case.

    In accordance with this procedural determination, Panel Representative (Staff Attorney) Harry E. Jones met with the parties on February 12, 1997, at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in Newington, Connecticut. During the informal conference, the parties were able to resolve some issues, including the one involving compressed work schedules, but new interests surfaced during that session. Following the initial meeting, Mr. Jones conducted three follow-up conference calls with the parties in an attempt to narrow the scope of the dispute. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the parties remained deadlocked on one issue -- how seniority should be defined for purposes of staffing the third shift. Mr. Jones has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The VA Connecticut Healthcare System operates two hospitals (Newington and West Haven) which provide inpatient and outpatient health care services to veterans in Connecticut; the two facilities were previously operated separately, but have recently been merged into one consolidated health care operation. The Union represents, at the local level, approximately 200 employees at the Newington facility; employees at the West Haven facility are represented by another union. The parties are governed by the master agreement between VA and NAGE which is due to expire in May 1998, as well as a local supplement which runs concurrently with the master agreement. The small crew of employees assigned to the third shift performs custodial duties, which primarily involve the stripping and waxing of floors.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue in dispute is how seniority should be defined for purposes of staffing the third shift.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes that "seniority shall be based on total service time at the Newington facility." Since the Newington and West Haven facilities have been merged, employees may now be assigned according to operational need, without regard to their original posts of duty. In essence, its proposal would establish a two-tiered seniority system for purposes of staffing the third shift in the Facilities Management Service. Under this plan, all unit employees who have worked at Newington would have seniority over those who have worked at West Haven, regardless of the amount of seniority an employee may have accrued at West Haven. The Union maintains that it is more appropriate to recognize total length of service at Newington for opportunities which arise at that facility. In its view, the Employer’s proposal is too far-reaching, as it could allow displaced employees from other agencies greater rights than Newington workers. Overall, the Union urges adoption of its proposal because it is fair to the employees that it represents.

2. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes that "seniority shall be based on the employee’s service computation date," which would include all Federal service in any department or agency. Under this proposal, employees could exercise their Governmentwide seniority in selecting, or electing to get off, the third shift in the Facilities Management Service. According to the Employer, this approach recognizes the widely accepted principle of labor-management relations under which preference is accorded to employees with the greatest length of service. The proposal would also be easy to administer since an employee’s service computation date is used routinely in a variety of personnel matters. The Union’s proposal is patently unfair to employees who have worked at West Haven as it would give preferential treatment to junior employees who have worked at Newington. Finally, the Union’s proposal would be extremely difficult to administer, as many employees have worked at both facilities over the years.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully reviewed the record in this case, we conclude that the parties’ dispute should be resolved on the basis of a compromise approach. On the one hand, we agree that the Union’s proposal is unfair to employees from West Haven who may be assigned to work at the Newington facility. On the other, the Employer’s proposal goes too far, as it could result in displaced employees from other agencies having greater rights than employees of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. Therefore, base