DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE PHILADELPHIA SERVICE CENTER PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA and CHAPTER 71, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
PHILADELPHIA SERVICE CENTER
CHAPTER 71, NATIONAL TREASURY
Case No. 97 FSIP 117
DECISION AND ORDER
Chapter 71, National Treasury Employees Union (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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Philadelphia Service Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Employer).(1)
After investigation of the request for assistance, which concerned whether a pilot 5/4-9 AWS should become "permanent" for employees in the Computer Operations Branch (COB),(2) the Panel directed the parties to meet informally with Panel Representative Sharon O. Steele for the purpose of resolving any outstanding issues. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Ms. Steele would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and her recommendations for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.
Ms. Steele met with the parties on September 23, 1997, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the informal conference, the parties agreed to continue the 5/4-9 AWS for all employees in the COB except for approximately 68 computer operators and systems analysts who operate and monitor the computer systems. Settlement efforts continued through October 7, 1997, but the parties remained deadlocked. At Ms. Steele’s request, the parties submitted written statements in support of their final positions. Ms. Steele has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.
The Employer’s mission is to process Federal tax returns and related documents and correspondence. The Philadelphia Service Center is a large pipeline operation which employs approximately 5,000 clerical and administrative employees during peak season. The Union represents a nationwide, consolidated bargaining unit consisting of approximately 98,000 professional and nonprofessional employees. The parties’ master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) is due to expire on June 30, 1998. A local AWS agreement runs concurrently with the MCBA.
The dispute arose after the parties agreed to implement a 5/4-9 AWS in the COB on a trial basis in April 1996. At that time, employees electing AWS were permitted to select the starting and ending times of their shifts. In January 1997, the Employer agreed to continue the AWS trial period while the parties were negotiating over whether the schedule should be made permanent, but required that AWS employees be placed on fixed starting and ending times. The record appears to indicate that there is no AWS option currently available to COB employees on the midnight (or graveyard) shift (12 to 8:30 a.m.); and, in accordance with the changes implemented by the Employer in February 1997, AWS employees on the day shift work from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, while those on the night (or swing) shift work from 3 p.m. until 12:30 a.m.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties essentially disagree over whether computer operators and systems analysts in the COB should continue to have a 5/4-9 AWS option.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Employer's Position
The Employer "requests that the Panel determine" that AWS "is not appropriate" for computer operators and systems analysts primarily for two reasons: (1) the current staffing level in the COB "strains" its "ability to maintain adequate coverage of all essential computer systems," especially during the summer and winter holiday and end-of-year processing periods; and (2) the trial AWS "has resulted in employees working overlapping shifts," making it difficult for management to find appropriate work for AWS employees to perform. Concerning the former, there has been a 30-percent reduction in staffing within the COB since Fiscal Year 1988, including five employees who left in February 1997. AWS "exacerbates the shortage of operators and analysts because each [A]WS employee is unavailable for duty for 1 workday during each 2-week period." As to the overlapping of shifts, the Union’s recent survey indicates that 39 employees would avail themselves of the 5/4-9 option under the Union’s proposal. By the Employer’s calculations, this would produce over 8,000 hours of overlapping time annually during which employees would have "little, if any, appropriate work" to perform.
The Union’s proposal "fails to address the Agency’s specific concerns regarding holiday periods and end-of-year processing periods, existing variable schedule requirements, and overlapping hour unproductive time." In particular, because of reduced coverage due to AWS during the critical holiday and end-of-year periods, leave requests may have to be denied, "with resulting resentment and loss of morale." Although the Union "verbally agreed" during the informal conference to suspend AWS during the end-of-year processing period, "its proposal does not reflect this commitment." Further, the Union’s suggestions concerning the tasks that employees could perform to minimize the impact of overlapping shifts on productivity "are normally performed by employees during their shifts." Finally, the summary of the Union’s survey purporting to demonstrate the comparability of its proposal to the practices at other IRS Service Centers is "very cursory" and "unreliable." Among other things, the results "do not reflect whether the inquiry related to the specific organizations or occupations at issue in this case."
2. The Union's Position
The Union essentially proposes that: (1) employees in the COB not currently covered by the parties’ local AWS agreement be given the option of working a 5/4-9 AWS; (2) current non-workdays remain the same unless a change is requested by the employee, and available non-workdays be assigned to employees based on seniority; (3) there be a total of nine possible starting and ending times for operators and analysts to select from (three on each shift; only the 6 a.m. day shift would not be available for operators); (4) employees permanently assigned to the graveyard shift would begin the shift on Sunday after midnight; and (5) employees may not select Saturday as their non-workday. Considerations of fairness dictate that operators and analysts be given the same AWS options as the other employees within the COB, other branches in the Philadelphia Service Center, and other IRS Service Centers. In this connection, the Union surveyed shift managers and section chiefs at the nine other IRS Service Centers around the country. Six currently offer operators and analysts "a form of" AWS, including options for a 4-10 or 5/4-9 schedule. In addition, when employees in the COB were working the AWS under the pilot program which was in effect until February 1997, they were "more productive, more focused, less apt to use sick leave and better able to meet the varied needs and responsibilities of their families."