U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Connecticut Healthcare System, Newington, Connecticut (Agency) and National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-109 (Union)

[ v57 p47 ]

57 FLRA No. 15

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
CONNECTICUT HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT
(Agency)

and

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT
EMPLOYEES, LOCAL R1-109
(Union)

0-AR-3339

_____

DECISION

March 30, 2001

_____

Before the Authority: Dale Cabaniss, Chairman; Donald S. Wasserman and Carol Waller Pope, Members.

Decision by Chairman Cabaniss for the Authority.

I.     Statement of the Case

      This matter is before the Authority on exceptions to an award of Arbitrator Joseph B. Rose filed by the Agency under § 7122(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority's Regulations. The Union filed an Opposition to the Agency's exceptions.

      The Arbitrator upheld a grievance alleging that the Agency had violated the negotiated agreement by combining the equal employment opportunity committees and the safety committees from the Newington, Connecticut, and West Haven, Connecticut, Medical Centers following the consolidation of those facilities. The Arbitrator ordered the Agency to restore those committees at the Newington facility, with the level of Union representation on those committees commensurate with the level of Union representation prior to the consolidation of the committees.

      For the reasons that follow, we deny the Agency's exceptions.

II.     Background

      The grievance concerns the merger of the equal employment opportunity ("EEO") committees and the safety committees from the Newington, Connecticut, and West Haven, Connecticut, Medical Centers. Prior to the consolidation of the two Medical Centers, the Agency maintained an EEO committee and a safety committee at each facility. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) represents the bargaining unit at the West Haven Medical Center, while the employees at the Newington Medical Center are represented by the National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-109 (NAGE).

      Following the consolidation of the two facilities, the Agency notified AFGE and NAGE that it intended to merge the safety and EEO committees from each medical center, resulting in one joint safety committee and one joint EEO committee to address issues at both medical centers. AFGE acceded to this request, while NAGE wanted to maintain separate committees at each of the facilities. Despite the opposition from NAGE, the Agency proceeded with its plan and combined the EEO and safety committees.

      Following the merger of the committees, NAGE filed a grievance. After the parties could not resolve the matter, they submitted the grievance to arbitration. In making his decision, the Arbitrator focused on the language contained in the agreement. First, he noted that the agreement called for the establishment of committees at the facility level. [n1]  The Arbitrator then found, based on the language of the agreement, that the Newington Medical Center was such a facility. [n2]  Based on these findings, the Arbitrator determined that the agreement mandated EEO and safety committees at the Newington Medical Center. Accordingly, he ruled that the Agency violated the agreement by combining the EEO and safety committees from the Newington and West Haven Medical Centers. As a remedy to this violation of the agreement, he ordered the Agency to restore the EEO and safety committees at the Newington facility with Union membership on those committees at a level commensurate with the level of representation prior to their combination with the committees of the West Haven Medical Center. [ v57 p48 ]

III.     Positions of the Parties

A.     Agency's Exceptions

      The Agency asserts that the award is contrary to law because it violates management's right to determine its organization under § 7106(a)(1) of the Statute. In this regard, the Agency argues that it has determined that the West Haven and Newington Medical Centers would better operate as one medical service center. Moreover, the Agency maintains that the right to determine its organization encompasses the right to organize committees. Consequently, the Agency asserts that it was within its rights under § 7106(a)(1) when it combined the EEO and safety committees, following its decision to consolidate the facilities.

      The Agency also argues that the award is erroneous because it conflicts with the contractual definition of "facility."

B.     Union's Opposition

      The Union asserts that the Authority has generally found that proposals requesting the establishment of joint labor management committees are negotiable. Specifically, the Union maintains that the Authority has held proposals regarding the purpose, structure, functions and composition of these committees to be negotiable.

IV.     Analysis and Conclusions

A.     The award is not contrary to law

      The Agency's exception concerns whether the Arbitrator's award is contrary to law. In particular, the Agency claims that the award violates management's right under § 7106(a) of the Statute to determine its organization. The Authority reviews questions of law raised by the arbitrator's award and the party's exceptions de novo. See NTEU, Chapter 24, 50 FLRA 330, 332 (1995), citing United States Customs Serv. v. FLRA, 43 F.3d 682, 686-87 (D.C. Cir. 1994). In applying a standard of de novo review, the Authority determines whether the arbitrator's legal conclusions are consistent with the applicable standard of law. See NFFE, Local 1437, 53 FLRA 1703, 1710 (1998). In making that determination, the Authority defers to the arbitrator's underlying factual findings. See id.

      The Authority's framework for resolving exceptions to arbitration awards allegin