DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX COLEMAN COLEMAN, FLORIDA and LOCAL 506, COUNCIL OF PRISON LOCALS C-33, 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

FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL COMPLEX COLEMAN

COLEMAN, FLORIDA

 

 

 

 

Case No. 99 FSIP 104

and

LOCAL 506, COUNCIL OF PRISON LOCALS

C-33, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 506, Council of Prison Locals C-33, 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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Federal Corrections Complex Coleman, Coleman, Florida (Employer or FCC Coleman).

    Following an investigation of the impasse, arising from bargaining over a local supplemental agreement, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference between a Panel representative and the parties. If no settlement was reached, the representative would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his 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, the undersigned conducted an informal conference with the parties on August 31, 1999, in Coleman, Florida, but they were able to resolve only two of the four issues in dispute.(1) At the conclusion of the informal conference, the parties’ presented their final offers and supporting evidence and arguments on the issues that remained. The undersigned has reported to the Panel, and it has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer operates a low and medium security Federal Correctional Complex. The Union represents 510 bargaining-unit employees who work in a variety of positions including correctional officer, counselor, case manager, mechanical service worker, teacher, physician assistant, accountant, and legal technician. Those who will be affected by the outcome of the two issues in this case are mainly correctional officers. The parties are covered by a master collective bargaining agreement that is due to expire on March 8, 2001.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether: (1) correctional officers working in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) and assigned as Compound officers should be authorized to wear "nickel gray" uniforms; and (2) Housing Unit officers on all shifts should be provided computers with Local Area Network (LAN) access, a typewriter, and a telephone with outside line capability in their work areas.(2)

1. Uniforms

    a. The Union’s Position

    Basically, the Union proposes that Compound and Special Housing Unit (SHU) officers be allowed to wear the authorized nickel gray uniforms "at no cost to management." Its proposal should be adopted because officers at both posts of duty get their clothing soiled in the course of performing their jobs. For example, Compound officers are responsible for supervising inmates in lawn maintenance activities, which frequently requires them to pour gasoline into lawn mowers and check oil levels. They also assist in security searches on the roofs of the facility. In addition, SHU officers have food and beverages thrown at them by inmates. In either case, the nickel gray uniform is easier to clean and maintain than the white shirt and dress slacks which constitute the "Class A" uniform currently required to be worn at these two posts of duty.

    There is no merit to the Employer’s argument that permitting the wearing of the nickel gray uniform would be confusing to inmates, and detract from a correctional officer’s ability to maintain their respect. Respect is a function of how an officer treats inmates, and not how an officer dresses. Furthermore, the union and management at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Tallahassee, Florida, have agreed to permit Compound and SHU officers to wear nickel gray uniforms, and there is no reason for the employees at FCC Coleman to be treated differently. Finally, the circumstances at FCC Coleman are different than those that pertained in the Panel’s recent decision in FCI Lompoc,(3) and warrant a different result. In this regard, the FCI at Lompoc is a low security facility, while FCC Coleman also includes a medium security prison. The SHU at the Coleman medium security facility houses 91 to 95 inmates, while the one at Lompoc only holds about 24.

    b. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes "to provide protective clothing to the [SHU] officers when serving the meals and to the Compound officers when filling the mowers with gasoline." While there may be some soiling of the Class A uniform, it does not occur nearly as frequently as the Union contends. Providing Compound officers with a protective smock, as management means to do, would prevent them from soiling their uniforms when supervising inmates in lawn maintenance activities. As to the SHU, very few of the 91 to 95 inmates are there for disciplinary reasons, so incidents where they become volatile are rare. There has only been one assault reported in the past 3 months in the SHU, and the Employer is unaware that it caused the soiling of any uniforms. Maintenance of the status quo would also preserve management’s ability to reassign the officers to other posts during the day, if necessary, without having them dressed in nickel gray uniforms. More significantly, Compound and SHU officers are in charge of security in the areas where they are located. Inmates respond differently depending on the type of uniform that is worn; they associate gray uniforms with workers (e.g., Unicor and facilities maintenance personnel), Class A uniforms with police, and business suits with management. Consequently, the Class A uniform, which is more authoritative, results in a safer correctional environment. With respect to the public, it presents a more professional appearance.

CONCLUSIONS

    After carefully considering the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, we are not persuaded that the circumstances at FCC Coleman justify a different outcome from what was ordered in the FCI Lompoc case. In this regard, there is insufficient evidence in the record to conclude that the soiling of Compound and SHU officers’ uniforms is more than an occasional occurrence.(4) In our view, even if the wearing of the Class A uniform has only a marginal positive impact on the safety and security of those at the facility, the Employer’s proposal provides the better basis for resolving the impasse. Moreover, the protective clothing offered by the Employer is an option that may address some of the Union’s concerns regarding additional cleaning and maintenance expenses by protecting the dress uniform from being soiled. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s proposal.

2. Equipment in the Housing Unit

    a. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes the following wording:

Unit officers on all shifts will be provided the following in their work area:

A. computer with LAN access;

B. typewriter compatible to the unit secretary;

C. phone with outside line capability.

Placing computers with LAN access in the Housing Units would permit correctional officers to receive e-mail messages during duty hours, and research BOP regulations and policies, etc., on the system. This is a "tool" to enhance staff capabilities, and management has no valid reason for denying such access when it is available to virtually all of the other BOP employees at the facility. In addition, the parties at the FCI at Tallahassee have negotiated an agreement which provides unit officers the same equipment. The adoption of its proposal is further justified by instances where work-related e-mail messages are sent to correctional officers by management, but are not followed up with hard copies deposited in their regular mailboxes. The three computers currently provided in the lounge area are frequently out of order, and often get scavenged for parts. Thus, the Employer’s offer to provide a fourth computer in the lounge area does not address the Union’s interests. As to the other equipment the Union proposes, typewriters would allow correctional officers to present more professional looking memoranda and incident reports. Installing telephones with direct access to outside lines would restore a previously existing practice which was terminated by the Employer about 8 months ago, and is currently the subject of an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge. Although correctional officers stationed in the Housing Units can obtain an outside line through the switchboard operator, they are not always able to do so on the first try.

    b. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes to "place four computers with LAN access in the staff lounge and provide a typewriter comparable to Unit Secretaries." An additional computer in the lounge area is sufficient to meet the needs of correctional officers in the Housing Units. The existing computers, which correctional officers may use during lunch periods, and before and after the start of their shifts, are underutilized as it is. In the recent past, 50 to 60 correctional officers automatically lost access rights to the computers because they did not log on frequently enough. While it may be true that the lounge computers are often being repaired, this is in large part a result of officers downloading games and other software which causes the computers to crash. More fundamentally, however, the reason that management opposes placing computers in the Housing Units is because correctional officers are basically "cops on the beat" whose primary function is keeping an eye on inmates. Having computer access would detract unnecessarily from these responsibilities. Instances where work-related e-mails were not also delivered as memoranda to regular mailboxes have been inadvertent and infrequent, and to the extent this has been a problem, management pledges to correct it. Nevertheless, these occasional lapses do not establish a need for the Union’s proposal. Contrary to the Union’s view, all of the other employees at the facility do not have access to the LAN system at their work areas, and correctional officers are not being discriminated against in this connection.

    Management agrees to provide a typewriter in the lounge area for correctional officers. As with the computers, it has security concerns about putting typewriters in the Counseling Rooms within the Housing Units, as the Union intends. In this regard, the facility’s Computer Service Manager believes that all such equipment should be locked behind double doors to ensure that it is kept away from inmates, and the Counseling Rooms have only a single locked door. Finally, there is no merit to the Union’s proposal for a telephone with outside line capability in the Housing Units because correctional officers can make short telephone calls home if necessary through the switchboard operator.

CONCLUSION

    Having carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments presented, we are persuaded that a compromise solution should be imposed to resolve the parties’ impasse over this issue. Regarding access to computers with LAN capability, it is unclear from the record whether the number of correctional officers who would use such equipment is sufficient to justify the considerable cost of the proposal.(5) Because some legitimate uses for the computers by correctional officers in the Housing Units have been iden