DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS METROPOLITAN CORRECTIONAL CENTER SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA and LOCAL 3619, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS

METROPOLITAN CORRECTIONAL CENTER

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

and

LOCAL 3619, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 99 FSIP 44

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 3619, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) and the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Metropolitan Correctional Center, San Diego, California (Employer) filed a joint 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.

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, which concerns appropriate attire for on- and off-site training, the last unresolved issue in negotiations over a successor supplemental agreement, should be resolved on the basis of written submissions from the parties. The parties were also advised that upon considering the entire record, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, which could include the issuance of a Decision and Order. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates a Federal correctional facility that detains inmates who are in custody of the U.S. Attorney General.(1) The Union represents 205 bargaining-unit employees who work in positions such as correctional officer, secretary, facility and cook foreman, physician assistant, psychologist, carpenter, and teacher at grades GS-4 through -12 and Wage Supervisor -3 through -10; employees in the latter group are designated supervisory because they oversee the hands-on work of inmates. They are part of a nationwide consolidated unit of about 21,000 employees covered by a master collective bargaining agreement which is due to expire on March 8, 2001.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties essentially disagree over whether correctional officers should be permitted to wear jeans and sneakers during training sessions.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes the following:

Staff attending training, whether at the institution or a remote site, will dress in uniform, civilian casual business attire, or professional business attire, as indicated at the time of the training. Leisure/sports attire, e.g., shorts, tank tops, sweat shirts, sweat pants, tennis shoes, sandals, T-shirts, jeans, or provocative clothing is considered unacceptable. Inappropriately dressed staff will be asked to correct their attire prior to attending the sessions.

Employees attending training during regular working hours should be dressed professionally because they are on duty and represent the agency. Furthermore, such dress would "correspond to generally accepted attire in the San Diego business community." When these employees return to the workplace in response to an emergency or staffing shortages, such attire assures that they will not be confused with inmates. In this regard, "inmates in the receiving and discharge area may be dressed in street clothing, jeans, T-shirts, sweat shirts/pants, etc., and staff dressed similarly could be mistaken for an inmate." Practices at Glynco, Georgia, where new employees are trained, are not good examples of what employees should wear because new recruits are not required to respond to emergencies. They also are not in the public eye since that training occurs outside of the community. As to the wearing of uniforms in public, with one exception related to a period of heightened security following threats received at some Federal agencies last year, no directive has been issued to discourage wearing official attire in public; currently, most uniformed employees wear such attire to and from work and when getting lunch in the community. Should an employee’s clothing be damaged while performing official duties, as the Union posits, the loss can be recouped through the filing of a tort claim. Finally, in response to concerns raised by Union, dress shoes are currently worn by non-uniformed employees on a daily basis, and they have not been identified by the Safety Office as causing a safety hazard.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union’s proposal reads:

Staff attending training, whether at MCC San Diego or a remote site, will have the option of wearing their usual working clothes or civilian casual attire. Casual attire will include Jeans and Sneakers as long as they are neat and clean. Training includes but is not limited to A.R.T.,(2) retreats, and other class room environment. Training that includes any type of physical activities such as but not limited to are self-defense, shooting range, side-handle baton, disturbance control, etc. may wear casual attire that is comfortable for them.

Although the Employer claims to be proposing a "relaxed" dress code, its proposal would impose a more restrictive dress requirement, reversing a 10-to-20 year practice of permitting employees to wear jeans and sneakers during training. Memoranda issued by the Employer over the last 5 years attest to the existence of this practice. In San Diego, where the facility is located, the wearing of jeans and sneakers is the norm. The proposed change merely reflects the new warden’s personal preference. It is not justified for the following reasons. Business attire is impractical for staff who may have to deal with serious situations such as escape, rioting, hostage-taking, flood, fire, or earthquake. Such clothing is easily damaged and matching dress shoes are unsafe because they do not provide stable footing. In addition, the affected employees, who are mainly at grades GS-5 through -8, may not be able to afford business casual attire and, therefore, would have to wear uniforms at training sessions.

    During off-site training, clothing that does not link employees to the Metropolitan Correctional Center protects them from potential assault by former inmates, and inmates’ family members and friends. At Glynco, employees are permitted to wear casual clothing, and instructors sometimes wear sweat suits. Finally, regarding the Employer’s contention that its preferred attire would help distinguish between inmates and employees, picture identification cards are in use throughout the system to identify Bureau of Prison staff. Since inmates, during in-processing, in transit to court, and when engaged in other activities, may be wearing outfits, including suits, that do not identify them as prisoners, clothing alone is not a reliable identifier.

CONCLUSION

    Having carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments provided by the parties, we are persuaded that the Union’s proposal provides the better basis for resolving their dispute. In reaching this conclusion, we find that the Employer has not demonstrated a need to change the long-standing practice of permitting employees to wear neat, clean jeans and sneakers at training sessions. In our view, the Employer’s concerns regarding the continuation of the current practice are speculative. For example, employees engaged in training presumably have been responding to requests that they return to the work site during emergencies for some time. There are no documented instances in the record, however, that problems have arisen because employees have worn jeans and sneakers while attending training. For similar reasons, we do not believe that there is a need to specify unacceptable clothing. As to the ability of personnel at the facility to distinguish between employees and inmates, there is no evidence in the record that picture identification cards have not been fully adequate for that purpose. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Union’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 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.

 

By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky