SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION FORT LAUDERDALE EAST FIELD OFFICE FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA and COUNCIL 220, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

FORT LAUDERDALE EAST FIELD OFFICE

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

and

 

COUNCIL 220, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 98 FSIP 170

DECISION AND ORDER

    Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees, 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, Fort Lauderdale East Field Office, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with a Panel representative for the purpose of resolving their dispute concerning the relocation of the Fort Lauderdale East Field Office. The parties were advised that if no settlement was reached, the Panel’s representative would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers, and his or 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.

    Accordingly, on December 15, 1998, former Panel Member Gilbert Carrillo(1) conducted an informal conference with the parties at the Employer’s office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.(2) During the informal conference, the parties resolved two of the five issues in dispute.(3) Mr. Carrillo submitted a written report to the Panel which included his recommendations for resolving the three remaining issues based on the record developed by the parties. The Panel has now considered the entire record.(4)

BACKGROUND

    The Employer administers retirement, disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs. The Union represents approximately 35 employees in the office who are part of a nationwide consolidated unit of about 48,000. They work in such positions as claims representative, service representative, and secretary. The parties’ master collective bargaining agreement was due to expire on March 5, 1999.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over: (1) the location of the multipurpose room (employee break room)/stockroom; (2) the location of the manager’s office; and (3) the layout of the reception area.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer essentially proposes that: (1) the multipurpose, or employee break room, be located in interior space and that the stockroom be placed at the rear of building with double doors to the outside; (2) the manager’s office be located at the front corner of the office with the window overlooking the front parking lot; and (3) the layout of the reception area follow the existing floor plan, with the reception counter windows placed opposite the front windows, and the public restrooms and private interview room placed on the side, along an interior wall.

    Placing the multipurpose room in the interior of the building would allow it to share plumbing lines with adjacent restrooms. Unlike the Union’s proposal, under its floor plan the multipurpose room is situated away from the Interactive Video Teleconferencing room, thereby avoiding potential transmission problems with the satellite linkup. As to the location of the stockroom, deliveries are more easily accommodated if it is at the rear of the building with double doors to the outside. Since mail pick up and delivery, as well as other deliveries, would occur in the stockroom area, keeping it at the rear of the office also would eliminate the need for delivery persons to walk through employee work space. Adopting the Union’s preferred location, on the other hand, would cause security concerns, as well as wear and tear on the carpets.

    With respect to the manager’s office, placing it in the front corner would help to maximize office security since it would allow the manager to monitor the front parking area, which is not patrolled by the office’s security guard. The manager’s office also would be near the assistant manager’s office, thereby creating a relatively secure area for confidential administrative and personnel records to be located. Its proposal regarding the layout of the reception area would allow employees who are manning the reception windows to have full view of persons entering the front door of the office, and would provide the security guard a direct line of vision to the reception windows to monitor any problems with patrons. Placing the reception counters opposite the office’s front window would maximize the amount of natural light coming into the reception area. Moreover, natural light would be able to pass through the open reception windows to an area where approximately one-third of the employees have their desks, further increasing the amount of natural light entering the office.

    The Union "has failed to establish any significant factors that would require changes" in the Employer’s proposed layout, notwithstanding its stated desire for an office design which maximizes natural light. In the current office space, employees either draw the drapes completely on some windows, or partially draw them closed on others. It is doubtful, therefore, that the windows proposed by the Union for the multipurpose room would provide much natural light, regardless of where they are placed on the wall. Moreover, the Employer questions the Union’s sincerity in promoting natural light for the office since it only belated raised the issue. In this regard, the parties already have agreed to the following wording: "All front windows will be tinted. To the extent possible, the tinting will be dark enough so as to prevent seeing in from the outside while affording seeing out from the inside." A window in the multipurpose room, where a television and VCR would be located, also poses a security concern because of "the relatively unsecured surroundings at the back of the building." Finally, the structure of the building is not conducive to placing the multipurpose room along the back section of the office, as the Union proposes, because of the existence of a load-bearing wall which would make it difficult to create a doorway, and to install electrical lines and plumbing.

2. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that "the employee break room be located at the rear of the space with windows installed along the top of the back wall." It notes that "there is a pleasant view of trees beyond the fence across the parking lot." In addition, the manager’s office would be placed "elsewhere in the interior, allowing more windows and natural light for the common area." As for the reception area, the Employer’s proposed layout should be reversed so that the public restrooms and private interview room are located directly opposite the office’s front window, and the reception counters are moved to the side.

    It makes sense to put the employee break room (or multipurpose room) at the rear of the office so that windows could be placed high on the back wall. This would allow employees to enjoy the benefits of natural light during rest breaks and lunch, and help compensate for the lack of natural light in employee work areas. Providing more natural light in the common work areas is also the rationale behind its proposals to move the manager’s office away from the front windows, and to reverse the Employer’s floor plan for the reception area. Another concern is employee security. Under the Employer’s floor plan, the back end of the office would have a lot of "dead space," where an intruder could remain undetected after entering the office from one of the rear doors. Thus, placing the employee break room in the rear of the office would enhance security by ensuring more "people traffic." Contrary to the Employer’s assertions, its floor plan lacks functionality and should be changed because there is no practical need for large double doors at the rear of the building. In conclusion, while "a view of the outside may seem like an expensive intangible," it "is not a luxury but a basic necessity," particularly when you consider the fact that "windows are a perk that management seems intent on reserving for itself."

CONCLUSIONS

    Having carefully considered the record in this case, we conclude that the Employer’s final offers provide the better basis for resolving the issues in dispute. Although the Union’s goal of increasing natural light is laudable, in our view it should not be sought at the expense of all other considerations. The relocation of the office between two other tenants in the building already places a severe limitation on the amount of available window space. Moreover, because of the parties’ previous agreement to tint the front windows, the only real source of natural light appears to be along the back wall of the office. Thus, the dispute boils down to which party has provided the more reasonable proposal regarding the location of the multipurpose/employee break room. In this connection, we are persuaded that the Employer has sufficiently justified its proposal to locate the multipurpose/employee break room in the interior of the office on the basis of security and efficiency, grounds which the Union has failed effectively to counter. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s final offers to resolve the parties’ impasse.

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 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 Employer’s final offers.

 

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky

Executive Director

March 15, 1999

Washington, D.C.

1.Subsequent to the date of the informal conference, Mr. Carrillo submitted a letter to President Clinton announcing his intention to resign as a Member of the Panel. His resignation became effective on February 15, 1999.

2.Mr. Carrillo and representatives of the parties also visited the site where the office is to be r