DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY HEADQUARTERS, U.S. ARMY COMMUNICATIONS-ELECTRONICS COMMAND FORT MONMOUTH, NEW JERSEY AND LOCAL 476, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
HEADQUARTERS, U.S. ARMY
FORT MONMOUTH, NEW JERSEY
LOCAL 476, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
Case No. 99 FSIP 79
DECISION AND ORDER
Local 476, National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE or 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 Army, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Fort Monmouth, New Jersey (Employer).
Following an investigation of the request for assistance, which involved mid-term negotiations over official time for Union representatives, the Panel directed the parties to participate in an informal conference with Panel Member Bonnie P. Castrey for the purpose of resolving the outstanding issue. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Ms. Castrey would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and her recommendations for resolving the dispute. After considering the report, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, including the issuance of a binding decision.
Pursuant to the Panel’s determination, the parties met with Ms. Castrey on June 17, 1999. Although a tentative settlement agreement was drafted during the informal conference, efforts to secure the approval of all the stakeholders ultimately were unsuccessful; the parties reverted to their final offers and submitted written statements in support of their proposals. Ms. Castrey has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.
The Employer’s mission is to provide communications and electronic equipment principally to the U.S. Army. The Union represents a bargaining unit of professional employees assigned to CECOM at Fort Monmouth; that unit consists of 1,331 employees, mainly engineers in grades GS-7 through GS-15. The bargaining unit is covered by a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) that went into effect in 1980 for a 3-year period, and has been automatically renewed for 1-year periods since then, including within the past year.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The parties essentially disagree over whether the Employer should provide 100-percent official time for one Union representative to handle all representational duties on behalf of the bargaining unit.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes 100-percent official time for one person. This proposal would bring CECOM employees in line with "prevailing labor-management agreements in Army Materiel Command (AMC), which includes CECOM-Fort Monmouth, [that] allow for blocks of official time." The proposal would also allow CECOM employees to achieve parity with bargaining unit employees of the other two units located at Fort Monmouth, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). In spite of the "prevailing practice" at Fort Monmouth for AFGE and IAFF employee representatives, CECOM representatives must still request "reasonable" official time from the Employer for each instance of official time use. The Union cannot "perform its [duty of fair representation] obligations under the Statute in an effective and efficient manner when it does not know from day to day how much official time management will approve." The past practice has been to grant blocks of unrestricted official time to NFFE Local 476 representatives, until "management unilaterally reduced . . . 100-percent official time" beginning in 1983. Documentation and testimonials provided to the Panel show that "official time is granted in addition to work duties, not in place of duties; thereby, the employee uses his own time to perform work/union duties, whatever needs to be accomplished by the Union representative." Although the Employer has repeatedly offered a reduction in workload for NFFE representatives, the offer is unrealistic because "due to the nature of engineering, not piece work, a reduction of workload has to be a specific block of time with no responsibilities." One engineer wrote that he had "never received any work reduction in all my years of performing official union activities . . . There is no way I can do my regular work in less than 40 hours/week." The most expedient way for the Union to handle representational duties, therefore, is for one representative to receive 100-percent official time.
2. The Employer’s Position.
The Employer proposes the following:
Supervisors will make appropriate adjustments in workload as needed in order for NFFE representatives to be afforded sufficient time to perform their representational functions. All other terms and conditions of Section 5 - Authorized Official Time, of the Labor-Management Agreement between CECOM and NFFE shall remain in full force and effect.(1)
The current practice is for employees to request authorization for all official time that is needed for the disposition of representational duties. "Prior to the Union’s submission for 100-percent official time in September 1998, management had never denied a request for official time submitted by NFFE’s representatives." It has been well documented that, apart from one specific instance, all the official time the Union requests is granted. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the Union officials receive sufficient official time with which to perform representational duties, and that the Union’s proposal would require a departure from the status quo that is unwarranted. The Union’s assertion that supervisors deliberately obstruct Union officials in their efforts to execute representational duties by denying them release from work duties is unfounded. Rather, engineers in the bargaining unit take pride in their personal involvement with CECOM projects and prefer to focus their attention on these projects as opposed to the Union’s representational duties during work hours. Its proposal, which includes "appropriate adjustments in workload," coupled with a proven track record of granting all official time requests, is a reasonable offer. Further, it is impossible to force Union officials to take time away from work hours for Union work. In this regard, "NFFE has the burden of proof to show that appropriate representational functions require 100-percent official time." Though the evidence suggests that NFFE does need a certain quantity of official time, it has not shown a documented need for 100-percent official time.
Having carefully considered the evidence and arguments presented, we conclude that the Employer’s proposal provides the more reasonable resolution of this dispute. In essence, while the Union proposes that one representative be granted 100-percent official time, it has provided little evidence to substantiate past use at that, or even near that level. With one exception, it also has not shown that its representatives encounter problems when they request official time. Instead, it appears that Union representatives are professionals, committed to completing assigned engineering projects, whose tendency to work on representational matters after duty hours may be self-imposed. Furthermore, during the informal conference in this case, the Union was unable to find a bargaining unit employee willing to commit to a full-time Union slot. Under these circumstances, we are persuaded that the Employer’s proposal, which improves on the current contractual wording by acknowledging that workloads may need to be adjusted as part of the process of approving a request for official time, will meet the Union’s needs. Accordingly, we shal