SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION BOSTON REGION BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS and LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

BOSTON REGION

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

and

LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 98 FSIP 35

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 1164, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), 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 Social Security Administration, Boston Region, Boston, Massachusetts (SSA or Employer).

    After the investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, arising from negotiations over granting excused absences to employees for "Christmas shopping," should be resolved through an informal conference between a Panel representative and the parties. If no settlement was reached, the Panel representative was to notify the Panel of the status of the dispute; the notification would include the final offers of the parties and the representative's recommendations for resolving the matter. Following consideration of this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to the Panel's determination, Panel Chair Betty Bolden held an informal conference with the parties on April 9, 1998, in Boston, Massachusetts. Although the parties explored settlement possibilities during the informal conference, the dispute was not resolved. The parties submitted their final offers to Chair Bolden who reported to the Panel. The Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to administer retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, and supplemental security income entitlement programs. To accomplish this mission, employees in the 74 field offices within the Employer’s Boston Region take in and process claims for such entitlements. Local 1164 represents approximately 1,400 bargaining-unit employees in that region, who are part of a nationwide, consolidated unit of approximately 48,000. They are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that is due to expire on March 5, 1999. Approximately 800 claims, service, teleservice, and field representatives; adjudication officers; and clerical employees will be affected by the outcome of the dispute in this case.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties essentially disagree over whether the Employer should continue a practice of granting varying amounts of excused absences to bargaining-unit employees during the end-of-year holiday season for the ostensible purpose of Christmas shopping.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes the following wording:

This MOU concerns management’s decision to cease the practice of Christmas shopping time in the field offices shown on the attachment.

The practice will cease on a phased out basis with the 42 offices listed on the attachment, ceasing the practice effective 12/31/98.

Management agrees to follow the provisions of Article 31 of the National Agreement in approving/disapproving excused absences.

The practice at issue is an anachronism that should be eliminated. When the practice started approximately 20 years ago, "blue laws" existed that limited store hours and alternative and compressed work schedules did not exist. Now, employees have extended access to stores and greater flexibility in their work hours. Annual leave records indicate that the average employee has adequate leave to accommodate personal needs.(1) Moreover, employees can supplement leave by earning credit hours under alternative work schedule programs available in all 42 offices where the practice exists. Leave records show that leave requests are rarely denied.

    The Union’s proposal, which could result in the practice continuing indefinitely, leaves the Employer vulnerable to public and congressional criticism. Additionally, the practice is inequitable in that it exists only in some offices in the Boston Region and the amount of time granted varies among offices.

2. The Union’s Position

    The following wording is proposed by the Union:

Employees in the 42 SSA field offices in the Boston Region listed in Attachment 1 will be granted excused absence, in the indicated number of hours between Thanksgiving and December 31, 1998. Local office management will follow existing procedures for granting Christmas Shopping Time in their offices.

With respect to continuing the practice of granting Shopping Time in the listed offices, the parties agree to abide by any decision to terminate or modify the practice reached during anticipated 1999 national contract negotiations. If the national negotiations do not terminate or modify the practice, it will continue.

There is no need to terminate the long-standing practice of granting Christmas-shopping time. This practice takes advantage of a slow period in the Employer’s offices to enhance employee morale by providing a low- or no-cost benefit. The practice constitutes a "perk" for bargaining-unit employees that parallels those afforded managers, such as free parking; and those provided private-sector employees, such as free "Christmas turkeys." The practice accommodates those employees who, for philosophical or other reasons, avoid shopping during evenings and on Sundays.

    The Employer’s proposal would terminate a practice of 20-year duration that promotes employee morale. It is vindictive and a reprisal for the Union’s action challenging the termination in one office. The leave balances on which the Employer relies are only an average and do not consider individual needs for extra personal time during the holiday season. Although Employer records show that leave requests are formally denied on rare occasions, they do not reflect instances when supervisors may have informally rejected requests. Employer concerns over adverse public reaction to the long-standing practice of granting shopping leave are unwarranted.

CONCLUSIONS

    Having considered the evidence and arguments presented, we conclude that the Employer’s proposal is the more reasonable of the two approaches. In this regard, relevant circumstances have changed considerably since the practice began 20 years ago. Employees today enjoy greater flexibility with respect to work schedules, and greater accessibility to shopping facilities. Additionally, it is widely accepted that not every benefit which may be provided to private sector employees is, or should be, available to those in the Federal service. In our view, the Employer’s willingness to continue the practice until the end of Calendar Year 1998 should provide affected employees with an adequate adjustment period. Accordingly, we shall order the parties to adopt the Employer’s proposal to resolve this dispute.

ORDER

    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted pursuant to the Panel’s regulations, 5 U.S.C. § 2471.6 (a)(2), the Federal Service Impasses Panel under § 2471.11(a) of its regulations hereby orders the following:

    The parties shall adopt the Employer’s proposal.

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