DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE PHILADELPHIA SERVICE CENTER PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA and CHAPTERS 22 AND 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

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case No. 98 FSIP 127

and

CHAPTERS 22 AND 71, NATIONAL

TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION

DECISION AND ORDER

   Chapters 22 and 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, Philadelphia Service Center (PSC), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Employer).

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance concerning a dispute arising from negotiations over an office move and reassignment of 60 Automated Collection System (ACS) employees from the Philadelphia District Office (PDO) to the PSC, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through an informal conference between a Panel representative and the parties. If the parties were unable to reach a settlement, the representative would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers, and his or her recommendations for resolving the impasse. The Panel would then take whatever action it deemed appropriate, including the issuance of a binding decision. Accordingly, Supervisory General Attorney Ellen J. Kolansky met with the parties on August 7, 1998, at the PSC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and toured the site. Although the parties explored settlement possibilities during the informal conference, they were unable to resolve the dispute. In addition, they were given an opportunity to submit written statements in support of their final proposals, but neither side chose to do so. Mrs. Kolansky reported to the Panel, which now has considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is responsible for assessing and collecting Federal taxes. Two NTEU chapters are involved in this case: Chapter 22 represents 1,000 bargaining-unit employees of the PDO and Chapter 71 represents 5,500 full-time and seasonal employees of the PSC.(1) The affected bargaining-unit employees, who are part of a nationwide consolidated unit, work as tax examiners and lead tax examiners. They are assigned to the ACS to resolve and collect delinquent tax claims and secure delinquent returns through telephone contact with taxpayers. Currently, there are 9 work groups of 13 to 15 employees each: at the PSC, 70 to 75 employees are divided among 5 work groups; at the PDO, 60 employees are divided among 4 work groups. In accordance with an agreement arising from the instant negotiations, the Employer is to give PDO employees a 30-day notice before they move to the PSC. The parties are covered by a successor master collective bargaining agreement known as NORD V that became effective on July 1, 1998.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether, after the move to the new location, employees from the PSC and the PDO should remain in existing work groups or be "integrated" into work groups that include employees from both work sites. The other related subissues concern: (1) the degree to which employees’ preferences for 5-4/9 and 4-10 alternative work schedules (AWS), off days, and relative seniority standing are to be maintained, and (2) the determination of work group seating locations (Emerald City, Dance Floor, and Accounts Compliance Branch(2)) and furniture assignments from existing inventories (ergonomic, POD, or Unicor).

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposal reads:

Upon arrival in Philadelphia Service Center, Automated Collection System (ACS) employees will be integrated into newly formed units. These employees will occupy the furniture available until new furniture arrives under the terminal replacement agreement dated January 6, 1998.

Employees will be located in three different areas, Accounts Compliance Branch, Dance Floor, and Emerald City.

The integration will be in accordance with Proposal "B," Methodology for Entered on Duty Date. This methodology will provide the most flexibility for the employees.

The Employer contends that employees will benefit from exposure to each others’ special expertise: Employees at the PDO are more expert in collection techniques, including eliciting information from taxpayers; those at the PSC are more expert at accessing and inputting computer data and performing other technical computer operations. In 1997, as part of a detail, some 26 employees were integrated into existing work groups rather than being assigned to separate teams. Supervisors reportedly observed that these employees immediately and spontaneously shared their expertise with co-workers; by the end of the detail, a great deal of work-related learning had occurred, enriching both sets of employees. By contrast, if the Union’s proposal is adopted, not only will employees be deprived of this learning opportunity, but a permanent "District Office versus Service Center" mentality will be created. Its "goal is to build a better business culture" so that employees are working for the good of the enterprise.

    Regarding the related subissues, the proposed method for assigning employees to work units takes into account employees’ AWS preferences (as determined through a recent, management-conducted survey) and preserves their seniority standing to the greatest extent possible; it is estimated such preferences would be granted nearly 100 percent of the time. On the other hand, the Union’s proposal to maintain existing work groups will result in 41 percent of PDO employees not being granted their AWS preferences. Since almost all of the new work groups will contain a core number of former coworkers, the Union’s interest in ensuring the continuity of collegial relationships would be achieved. As to the furniture, moving the POD furniture from the PDO to the PSC, as the Union proposes, could cost as much as $45,000. The quality of available furniture, however, is not a determinative factor; within the last several years employees performed essentially the same work at a satisfactory level using even lower quality furniture than is currently in use. Furthermore, improved ergonomic work stations are to be ordered, and could be available for affected employees as soon as the end of the calendar year.(3)

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes:

A. Employees migrating from the District Office will remain in their current work units to maintain employees’ tours of duty, seniority standing, work schedules, etc. The Service Center units will remain the same as well. There will be five units comprised of Service Center employees and four units comprised of former District employees. The Union proposes to conduct work shops, town meetings, unit meetings and focus groups to help share experiences and skills, and attitudes, if necessary.

B. The [work] units [will] be interspersed among the different areas for ACS work, i.e., two Service Center units and one District unit will work on the ‘dance floor.’ Two Service Center units and one District unit will work in the ‘emerald city’ area. One Service Center unit and two District Units will work in the Accounts Compliance Branch area. (Attachment C.) [Attachment C, a sketch, is not provided.]

C. Four Service Center units and two District units will have the best ergonomic furniture. One Service Center unit will use the ‘pod’ furniture coming from the District Office. One District unit will use a combination of ‘pod’ furniture and Unicor desks. One District unit will use Unicor desks.

Maintaining existing work units represents the preference of most employees at both locations; a Union-circulated petition was signed by 39 PSC employees who state that they wish to remain in existing work groups. Its proposal would be less disruptive to PSC employees who have moved four times within the PSC in the last 4 years. Similarly, maintaining the status quo would also serve to preserve the quality of work life for PDO employees who are being forced to leave a preferred office-like setting to move to the less convenient, factory-like atmosphere of the PSC.(4) For them, retaining both social and mission-enhancing co-worker and supervisory relationships that have grown up over many years would ease their adjustment to the change. Furthermore, employees can be integrated simply by placing work groups from both work sites in the same seating area.

    Regarding the controversy over furniture, employees should not be moved until the Employer can provide them with "appropriate equipment" at the PSC. (By equipment, the Union states it means furniture.) Although, the Union’s proposal provides both sets of employees with a "fair" share of better and worse furniture and seating locations, giving some employees the less desirable Unicor furniture may crystallize resentments, thereby exacerbating morale problems associated with the move. The Employer’s claim that its proposal would meet employees’ AWS preferences nearly 100 percent of the time is unsubstantiated. Furthermore, a brief review of the AWS preference survey during the informal conference revealed at least three errors. As to the Employer’s concerns about training, such needs are adequately addressed in the portion of the Union proposal that provides for peer teaching through formal and informal meetings, workshops, and focus groups. The Employer’s proposal, which contemplates employees talking to each other during working hours, would encourage "banter" that supervisors have not tolerated in the past.

CONCLUSIONS

    After carefully reviewing the arguments and evidence presented, we conclude that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of the Employer’s proposal. In reaching this conclusion, we are persuaded, based on the Employer’s previous experience, that forming work groups of employees with different skills will open the door to significant informal training opportunities for employees that would otherwise be unavailable. With respect to the Union’s concerns about the effect of such immediate changes on the quality of employees’ work life, in our view, the composition of the new groups does not represent a radical change because, as the Employer states, almost all of the new work groups will contain a core of employees from each employee’s former work unit. Moreover, based on both parties’ predictions, even if management wanted to, it would be unable to maintain groups exactly as now constituted because some PDO employees reportedly plan to terminate their employment rather than move. In addition, the Employer’s plan offers employees a measure of work life stability by retaining their AWS schedules and seniority standing to the extent possible, an interest voiced by the Union. In the same vein, the notice period that the Employer has already agreed to provides an adjustment period for employees to rearrange their commutes and attend to other personal matters. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s proposal.

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 under 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6(a)(2) of the Panel’s regulations, the Federal Service Impasses Panel under 5 C.F.R. § 2471.11(a) hereby orders the following:

    The parties shall adopt the Employer’s proposal.

 

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky

Executive Director

September 25, 1998

Washington, D.C.

 

1.Once the PDO employees move to the PSC, they will accrete to the unit represented by Chapter 71.

2.As to the seating areas, the parties agree that furniture in: (1) Emerald City, named for its green padded dividers and systems furniture, is the most preferred; (2) Dance Floor, named for its elevated floor, is the second most preferred; and (3) Accounts Compliance Branch, the oldest seating area with prison industry (Unicor) desks, is the least preferred.

3.The Employer indicates that the January 8, 1998, national-level Terminal Replacement Letter of Understanding addresses the budgeting, replacement, and retrofitting of employees’ workstations. The Union does not contradict this point. In that document, service centers nationwide are given first priority over other segments of the IRS for new furniture. The furniture is to be ordered over a 3-year period; funding for the furnit