DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CENTER FORT GORDON FORT GORDON, GEORGIA and LOCAL 2017, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CENTER
FORT GORDON, GEORGIA
Case No. 98 FSIP 163
LOCAL 2017, AMERICAN FEDERATION
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
DECISION AND ORDER
The Department of the Army, U.S. Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Fort Gordon, Georgia (Employer), 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 Local 2017, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union or AFGE).
Following an investigation of the impasse, arising from bargaining over a successor collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Panel directed the parties to take part in an informal conference with a Panel representative to resolve the dispute. If the parties were unable to reach a complete settlement, the representative would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and her recommendations for resolving the matter. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.
Accordingly, Panel Representative (Staff Attorney) Sara L. Walsh conducted an informal conference with the parties on December 9, 1998, at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Although four out of five issues relating to their successor CBA were resolved during the informal conference, the parties were unable to reach agreement on a portion of one article concerning annual leave. Ms. Walsh reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.
The Employer trains signal soldiers in electronic communications and, at the Eisenhower Medical Center, provides residency training for doctors. The Union represents approximately 1,990 bargaining-unit employees, who work as training instructors, nurses, licensed practical nurses, laboratory and x-ray technicians, and clerks at GS-4 through -9. The Union also represents some 50 food service workers and vehicle operators at WG-3 through -10. The parties’ CBA was due to expire September 24, 1996, but remains in effect pending implementation of the parties’ successor agreement.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties disagree over whether a minimum time-frame for employees to request non-emergency annual leave should be specified.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Employer’s Position
The Employer proposes changing the wording in the current agreement to provide that "leave requests should be made at least 5 workdays in advance, and will be considered on an individual basis." The primary reason for the change is to avoid workload disruptions resulting from supervisors receiving no advance notice of employees’ annual leave requests. This lack of notice affects staffing levels and requires work schedule changes, resulting in decreased customer service, efficiency, and mission fulfillment, especially in those divisions dealing directly with the public. The need for its proposed wording is supported by a statement from the Chief of the Military Personnel Division (CMPD).(1) Denying last-minute leave requests merely exacerbates low employee morale; to avoid this outcome, supervisors approve such requests despite workload requirements. Instead of promoting responsible and timely notification, the lack of a set deadline in the current contract encourages employees to submit belated leave requests.
By contrast, the proposed wording would benefit both supervisors and employees alike. For supervisors, the advanced notice of employees’ leave plans decreases the likelihood of disruptions in work schedules and increases the ability to meet mission goals. It also provides a clear basis for denying leave requests that are untimely and a tool for counseling employees who repeatedly submit last-minute requests. For employees, the proposed wording is intended to serve as guidance on requesting leave that stops short of setting a mandatory deadline; employees could still request leave at the last minute, if necessary.
2. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes retaining the contractual wording in effect "for many years" requiring employees to submit their leave requests "normally in advance."(2) Fundamentally, the Employer fails to demonstrate a need for changing the past practice. It has both the contractual and statutory right to grant or deny leave requests based upon workload requirements and can enforce this right by denying leave, imposing disciplinary leave restrictions, or calling the employee back to work. The Employer’s failure to exercise this discretion indicates an internal management problem, not a defect in the contractual wording. Although problems with last-minute requests occurred in the past, the employees involved are no longer with the Agency; similar difficulties with current employees are rare. In addition, there is little, if any, evidence that the contract provision has a negative impact on mission or mission-critical workload requirements. In fact, the thrust of the current contractual wording is to counsel employees that leave requests should be submitted in advance, while also providing flexibility for last-minute requests due to unanticipated circumstances. As indicated in a written statement the Union provided at the informal conference, where employees wish to take unscheduled or non-emergency leave, "it is still up to the discretion of the Employer to grant or deny leave." Other Federal agencies recognize the need for flexibility in this area, and their labor agreements do not set specific time-frames for requesting such leave.(3)
Having carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments presented by the parties in this case, we are persuaded that the Union’s proposal provides the more reasonable basis for resolving the impasse. In reaching this decision, we agree with the Union that the Employer has failed to demonstrate a need to change the status quo. Although on its surface the issue involves an annual leave notice period, management’s underlying concern is to ensure that staffing is adequate to meet its mission requirements. In our view, even assuming that staffing shortages continue to occur because of the approval of last-minute leave requests, the Employer’s proposed solution at best only addresses this problem indirectly and ineffectively. The preferred approach is for management to exercise its right to disapprove non-emergency leave requests where doing otherwise would adversely affect the mission. Thus, the Employer’s attempt to seek a "contractual fix" appears to be a poor substitute for its unwillingness to take such action. Moreover, an advance notification period of 5 workdays appears arbitrary where the focus of the dispute is last-minute leave requests. For these reasons, we shall order the adoption of the Union’s proposal.
Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the parties’ failure to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under the Panel’s regulations, 5 C.F.R. § 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 Union’s proposal.