FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY WASHINGTON, D.C. and LOCAL 3836, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

In the Matter of

FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

AGENCY

WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 98 FSIP 43

and

LOCAL 3836, AMERICAN FEDERATION

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington, D.C. (Employer or FEMA) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel to consider a negotiation impasse under section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute between it and Local 3836, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO (Union). After investigation of the request for assistance, which involves ground rules for negotiations over FEMA’s Region IV successor collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Panel asserted jurisdiction and directed the parties to expedited arbitration(1) by telephone with the undersigned.

    Accordingly, on February 27, 1998, I conducted an arbitration hearing by telephone with the parties’ representatives. Each side presented oral testimony and arguments in support of its position; the Employer also presented exhibits. I have considered the entire record, which is now closed.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is the central agency within the Federal government for emergency planning and preparedness, and coordinates the national, state, and local governmental response in times of catastrophic disaster. Region IV covers approximately 8 states;(2) it has a regional office in Atlanta, and a satellite office in Thomasville, Georgia. The Union represents 66 employees who work mostly as emergency management specialists, at grades GS-5 through -13; 50 are located in Atlanta and 16 in Thomasville. The parties’ CBA, last negotiated in 1989, was to have expired on May 31, 1997, but remains in effect by mutual agreement until a successor is implemented.

ISSUES

    The parties basically disagree over the site and schedule of their successor agreement negotiations, and how much of the Union’s travel and per diem expenses should be paid by the Employer.(3)

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes the following wording:

Place of Negotiations. The place of negotiations will be the Region IV office in Atlanta, Georgia. The Employer will provide one employee/Union negotiator with per diem for up to 5 days and travel costs for one round trip from Thomasville, Georgia, to Atlanta, Georgia. The Union will arrange and bear any additional per diem costs for its negotiators, if needed, during term negotiations. Additionally, the Union will bear all costs for any Union negotiator not employed by the Employer.

Start Date. Collective bargaining agreement negotiations will commence within 3 weeks of the exchange of proposals. If negotiations are not concluded by Friday, May 1, 1998, (after 1 week of negotiations), the parties will establish a schedule for resuming negotiations.

The negotiations should occur at the Region IV office in Atlanta for a number of reasons. In the Employer representative’s 9 years of experience as a labor relations officer with FEMA, it has been the parties’ practice to negotiate agreements which would apply to the entire region at the Atlanta Regional Office. This is also consistent with where negotiations are conducted between management and the unions which represent employees in its other bargaining units. For example, in Region V the union agreed to renegotiate its successor agreement in the Chicago Regional Office even though FEMA has a satellite office in Battle Creek, Michigan. In addition, the parties’ current CBA was negotiated in Atlanta. Continuing the practice makes sense because that is where the vast majority of bargaining-unit employees and management’s senior staff are located. There are also more resources for the parties to draw upon in Atlanta than in Thomasville. In this regard, AFGE’s District 5 is based there, and it is also where the parties’ mediator has his office.

    With respect to the schedule and duration of the bargaining, the Employer sincerely believes that the parties can conclude their efforts within a week. This is based on its experience with its other bargaining units which have CBAs very similar to the one in Region IV, i.e., none of the agreements are comprehensive, as might be found at larger agencies. In fact, most of the initial and successor CBA negotiations it has had with its other unions have taken 1 week or less. The parties’ recent efforts in reaching an agreement in 1 day involving office relocations at Thomasville demonstrates what they can do when they try hard. If more time is required, however, the Employer’s proposal allows the parties to extend the negotiating schedule.

    The Employer’s offer to pay the travel and per diem expenses for one Union negotiator for 5 days of bargaining in Atlanta is generous. As indicated above, management and its other unions are proud of their record of completing negotiations over initial and successor CBAs within a 1-week period. Taxpayers should not be required to provide unreasonable subsidies to the Union for its negotiation expenses. Rather than providing it with an additional incentive to reach agreement, adoption of the Union’s proposal would only encourage it to bargain to impasse. Finally, the Union’s representative has admitted that the Local has only 11 dues-paying members. As the Employer’s exhibits show, however, the Local has been in trusteeship since May 1995. While the inordinate length of the trusteeship raises a public policy issue regarding the lack of democracy within the Local, the November/December 1997 edition of AFGE’s national newsletter, The Government Standard, reported that the national union has cash revenues over expenses of $414,162. Thus, there is no merit to any contention that the Union does not have the ability to pay its own travel and per diem expenses.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union’s counter proposal is as follows:

Place of Negotiations. The place of negotiations will be at F[ederal] R[egional] C[enter] Thomasville, Georgia, the first week and Atlanta, Georgia, the second week if necessary, and if travel is involved, the Employer will bear 100 percent of the costs for per diem and such travel for two Union negotiators, to include lodging, meals, and travel, when required to travel to Atlanta, Georgia. Should it be necessary for additional weeks of negotiation, it will be accomplished in an alternative process, Thomasville, Georgia, for one week and Atlanta, Georgia, one week.

Exchange of Proposals. The parties will exchange proposals by the close of business on Friday, March 27, 1998, and no new proposals will be accepted after that date except by mutual agreement.

Start Date. Collective bargaining agreement negotiations will commence on Monday, April 20, 1998. If negotiations are not concluded by the close of business on Thursday, April 30, 1998, the parties will devote the day of Friday, May 1, 1998, to scheduling future negotiations.

Contrary to the Employer’s contention, the parties’ current CBA was negotiated in Thomasville, and not Atlanta. During the period just after FEMA was created in 1979, the majority of the employees were in Thomasville, and it was not considered a satellite office. More importantly, Thomasville is more convenient for the Union because its two employee negotiators are located there, and its chief negotiator/trustee is stationed nearby in Tallahassee, Florida. Additionally, the negotiations should occur in Thomasville because the per diem rates are cheaper than in Atlanta. This is particularly significant because the Employer is unwilling to pay 100 percent of the Union’s expenses, yet insists on trying to force its negotiators to a site which would be more costly. Given the Local’s financial condition, requiring the parties to negotiate in Atlanta would be cost prohibitive if the negotiations become protracted, and could undermine the Union’s negotiating position.

    The Union’s proposal on scheduling is intended to accommodate the realities of the workload faced by its chief negotiator/trustee. In this regard, if the schedule of bargaining is not agreed to in advance, his future availability cannot be guaranteed. The adoption of its proposal, therefore, would serve the interests of both parties, particularly if the negotiations take longer than the 1 week envisioned by the Employer. Given the current state of the parties’ relationship and the fact that they could not even agree to ground rules, it is folly to believe that substantive bargaining will be completed in a week. Finally, the Union fails to see the relevance of the length of time the Local has been in trusteeship to any of the ground rules issues.

OPINION

    Having carefully reviewed the parties’ positions on the issues at impasse, I am persuaded that their dispute regarding the site and schedule of the negotiations should be resolved by ordering bargaining for 2 consecutive weeks starting on Monday, April 20, 1998, with the first week in Thomasville and the second week in Atlanta. Preliminarily, without a clearer understanding of all the topics which may be on the bargaining table, it is impossible to determine with precision how much time should be set aside for the negotiations. In my view, however, it would be unfair to the Union to restrict the parties to 1 week of pre-scheduled substantive negotiations. In this regard, the Employer justifies its proposal on this issue by citing its previous experience with the other unions that represent its employees. I am simply not in a position to conclude that the norm that appears to have developed from those experiences should be applied to every union attempting to negotiate a successor agreement with the Employer. Moreover, adopting such a ground rule in the current situation could have an undue influence on the course of the substantive negotiations. By the same token, on the basis of the discussion which occurred during the arbitration hearing, the Union has not established a need for more than 2 weeks of pre-scheduled negotiations. Under these circumstances, it would be imprudent to impose ground rules which encourage protracted bargaining.

    Once the length of the pre-scheduled negotiating period has been set at 2 weeks, a balancing of the equities dictates that the site of the bargaining should be rotated on consecutive weeks between Thomasville and Atlanta. To select either site as the exclusive location of the negotiations would inconvenience only one of the parties. Finally, with respect to the issue of the payment of travel and per diem, the Employer shall be ordered to contribute 75 percent of the expenses of the employee/Union negotiators for the second week of negotiations in Atlanta. This is supported by the principle that requiring both sides to have a financial interest in the length of the bargaining period should help to ensure that the negotiations are concluded expeditiously.

DECISION

    The parties shall adopt the following wording to resolve their impasse over ground rules:

1. Official Time for Preparation

Official Time. Official time is authorized for the time spent at the bargaining table in direct negotiations, and caucuses of short duration on the days of direct negotiations. Additionally, up to 20 hours of official time is authorized for the Union negotiators to prepare for negotiations, and this time may be divided between the two negotiators as the Union may determine.

2. Site and Payment of Travel and Per Diem Expenses

Place of Negotiations. The first week of negotiations will be in Thomasville, Georgia. The second week of negotiations will be at the Region IV office in Atlanta, Georgia. The Employer will provide 75 percent of the travel and per diem expenses of the employee/Union negotiators for the second week of negotiations. The Union will arrange and bear any additional per diem or travel costs for its negotiators, if needed, during term negotiations. Additionally, the Union will bear the costs for any Union negotiator not employed by the Employer.

3. Schedule of Negotiations

Start Date. Collective bargaining agreement negotiations will commence on Monday, April 20, 1998. If negotiations are not concluded by Friday, May 1, 1998, the parties will establish a schedule for resuming negotiations.

 

H. Joseph Schimansky

Arbitrator

March 3, 1998

Washington, D.C.