American Federation of Government Employees (Union) and Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Tampa, Florida (Agency)
63 FLRA No. 176
FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
OFFICE OF DISABILITY ADJUDICATION AND REVIEW
August 13, 2009
Before the Authority: Carol Waller Pope, Chairman and
Thomas M. Beck, Member
I. Statement of the Case
The matter is before the Authority on exceptions to an award of Arbitrator Douglas F. Coleman filed by the Union under § 7122(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority’s Regulations. The Agency filed an opposition to the Union’s exceptions.
As relevant here, the Union filed a grievance arguing that the Agency violated the parties’ agreement by failing to notify the Union before it changed conditions of employment by creating a task force and relocating several employees to different offices. For the reasons set forth below, we dismiss the Union’s contrary to law exception as barred by § 2429.5 of the Authority’s Regulations and deny the Union’s remaining exceptions.
II. Background and Arbitrator’s Award
The Agency is responsible for issuing decisions for claims of Social Security disability benefits. In this regard, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) employed by the Agency adjudicate claims and issue decisions on the claims. The ALJs are assisted by staff attorneys and case technicians.
The Agency accumulated a substantial backlog of cases that were more than 1,000 days old, otherwise known as “aged” cases. Award at 15. As a result of this backlog, the Agency directed its Chief ALJ to quickly issue decisions for these cases. In response to this directive, the Chief ALJ created the Aged Task Force (Task Force). Id. The Task Force’s goal was to issue decisions for aged cases within ninety days of the Task Force’s creation. The Chief ALJ assigned himself, another ALJ, two staff attorneys, and two case technicians, who are also bargaining unit employees, to the Task Force. Id. Further, the Chief ALJ relocated the Task Force employees from the second floor of the Agency’s building to the building’s fourth floor for the duration of the Task Force. The case technician assigned to the Chief ALJ was assigned to the Chief ALJ prior to the creation of the Task Force; the other case technician was assigned to the second ALJ because that ALJ did not have a case technician. Id. at 16. Although the case technicians worked primarily on the aged cases, they were also expected to work on their other cases to the extent that was possible. Id. at 8. The remaining case technicians continued to work on their own cases, but also had to work on cases that the Task Force case technicians were unable to handle. Id. at 9, 11. The Chief ALJ disbanded the Task Force after the ninety day period ended.
The Union filed a grievance arguing that: (1) the creation of the Task Force was a “detail” assignment, as defined by Article 27, § 1 of the parties’ agreement, because employees received new assignments and were relocated to a new duty station, and, as such, the Agency was required to follow certain procedures before it created the Task Force; and (2) the Agency violated Article 4 of the parties’ agreement because it failed to notify the Union before it changed conditions of employment by creating the Task Force and relocating case technicians to different offices. Id. at 3-4. The matter was unresolved and was submitted to arbitration. The Arbitrator framed the issue as: “[d]id the establishment of the [Task Force] . . . violate the provisions of Articles 3, 4, and 27 by setting up [the Task Force] without asking for volunteers to become part of [the Task Force], and was the work considered ‘detail’ work for the purposes of this assignment.” Id. at 2.
The Arbitrator concluded that the Agency did not violate Article 4, § 1 of the parties’ agreement because the creation of the Task Force did not change any conditions of employment. Id. at 17, 18-19. In this regard, the Arbitrator found that the creation of the Task Force did not change any conditions of employment; rather, it merely resulted in employees doing more of the same type of work. Id. at 17, 19.
The Arbitrator also concluded that the Agency did not violate Article 27, § 1. In this regard, the Arbitrator found that the Task Force was not a “detail” assignment because the clerical employees were not assigned to different positions. Id. at 17. The Arbitrator also found that these employees were not assigned to a different duty station, but were only relocated to different offices in the same building. Id. at 17-18. Based on the foregoing, the Arbitrator denied the grievance.
III. Positions of the Parties
A. Union’s Exceptions
The Union claims that the Arbitrator’s conclusion that the Agency was not required to notify the Union prior to the creation of the Task Force because the Agency did not change any conditions of employment is contrary to law and fails to draw its essence from the parties’ agreement. In this regard, the Union alleges that, under § 7113(b) of the Statute and Article 4, § 1.A. of the parties’ agreement, the Agency is required to notify the Union before it changes conditions of employment. Exceptions at 4-5. The Union asserts that the Agency changed conditions of employment for case technicians by creating the Task Force and relocating technicians to different offices. Id. at 6. As such, the Union contends that the Agency was legally and contractually required to provide the Union with notice.
B. Agency’s Opposition
The Agency contends that the Union’s exceptions should be denied because they are nothing more than an attempt to relitigate the issues that were presented to the Arbitrator. Opposition at 2-3.
IV. Preliminary Issue
The Union argues that the Arbitrator’s conclusion that Agency was not required to provide the Union with notice is contrary to § 7113(b) of the Statute. Under 5 C.F.R. § 2429.5, an issue that could have been, but was not, presented before an arbitrator will not be considered by the Authority. See, e.g., United States DHS, United States Customs & Border Prot., JFK Airport, N.Y, N.Y., 62 FLRA 416, 417 (2008). There is no indication in the record that the Union raised its claim that the Agency violated § 7113(b) before the Arbitrator. In this regard, the Union’s grievance alleges only that the Agency violated provisions of the parties’ agreement. See Award at 2-4. In addition, in its post-hearing brief, the Union argued only that the Agency’s decision to create the Task Force violated the parties’ agreement. See Opposition, Union’s Post-Hearing Brief at 5-7; see also id. at 2 (Union stated that the issue for resolution was whether the Agency violated the parties’ agreement). Accordingly, as the foregoing establishes that the Union did not raise its claim concerning § 7113(b) before the Arbitrator, we dismiss the Union’s contrary to law claim as barred by § 2429.5 of the Authority’s Regulations.
V. The award does not fail to draw its essence from the parties’ agreement.
In reviewing an arbitrator’s interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, the Authority applies the deferential standard of review that federal courts use in reviewing arbitration awards in the private sector. See 5 U.S.C. § 7122(a)(2); AFGE, Council 220, 54 FLRA 156, 159 (1998). Under this standard, the Authority will find that an arbitration award is deficient as failing to draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement when the appealing party establishes that the award: (1) cannot in any rational way be derived from the agreement; (2) is so unfounded in reason and fact and so unconnected with the wording and purposes of the collective bargaining agreement as to manifest an infidelity to the obligation of the arbitrator; (3) does not represent a plausible interpretation of the agreement; or (4) evidences a manifest disregard of the agreement. See United States Dep’t of Labor (OSHA), 34 FLRA 573, 575 (1990). The Authority and the courts defer to arbitrators in this context “because it is the arbitrator’s construction of the agreement for which the parties have bargained.” Id. at 576.
The Union contends that the Arbitrator erred in concluding that the creation of the Task Force did not constitute a change in conditions of employment that required notification to the Union under Article 4, § 1.A. of the parties’ agreement. Article 4, § 1.A., a contractual notice provision, states, in relevant part, that the Agency “will provide the Union with reaso