SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION BALTIMORE, MARYLAND and AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

and

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT

EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 01 FSIP 103

 

ARBITRATOR’S OPINION AND DECISION

   The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union or AFGE) 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 (FSLMRS), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland (Employer or SSA). After the investigation of the request for assistance, which concerns a dispute over the planning of Employer-sponsored conferences,(1) the Panel directed the parties to mediation-arbitration via teleconference with the undersigned. The Panel further determined that if any issues remain unresolved following the procedure, the interest arbitrator would resolve them by selecting either of the parties’ final offers on a package basis. Accordingly, on July 17, 2001, a mediation-arbitration proceeding by telephone was conducted with representatives of the parties. During the mediation phase, the parties voluntarily resolved all but one of several issues in dispute.(2) When the parties were unable to reach a complete settlement, they identified for arbitration their final offers on the remaining issue and presented oral argument on their positions. Post-hearing briefs were not submitted.(3) I have now considered the entire record in this matter, including the parties’ final offers, statements of position and documentary evidence.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer is responsible for administering retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs. The Union represents approximately 53,000 employees in a nationwide consolidated bargaining unit, the majority of whom work in District and Branch Offices, primarily as claims and service representatives. The parties’ most recent master collective-bargaining agreement is in effect until April 2004.

    The dispute herein arose during bargaining over changes in the Government-wide Federal Travel Regulations (FTR), administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), which went into effect in January 2000. In this regard, the Union sought negotiations over certain aspects of the revised travel regulations which agencies were permitted to implement at their discretion. In essence, the parties’ dispute centers around the Employer’s claim that it needs maximum flexibility concerning conference planning, while the Union seeks to have the Employer exercise its discretion in a consistent manner.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue at impasse concerns whether the Union should receive notice each time the Employer decides not to serve light refreshments(4) at an Employer-sponsored conference.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes the following:

For conferences within a single component, where it is determined not to provide light refreshments, SSA will notify the appropriate AFGE component council pursuant to Article 4 of the National Agreement. The Union does not waive any rights to bargain that it may have under the FSLMRS, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71, or the National Agreement.

For multi-component conferences where it is determined not provide light refreshments, SSA will notify the Spokesperson, AFGE General Committee, pursuant to Article 4 of the National Agreement. The Union does not waive any rights to bargain that it may have under the FSLMRS, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71, or the National Agreement.

The Union contends that the Employer does not have a consistent practice of providing light refreshments at conferences; rather, whether light refreshments are provided varies from region to region within the components, and employee morale is affected by the disparate treatment. The Union has an interest in ensuring that all employees receive equal treatment on this matter. While the Union does not contend that the Employer must provide light refreshments at all conferences, the Union should be given notice and an opportunity to bargain consistent with Article 4 of the National Agreement, "Negotiations During the Term of the Agreement on Management Initiated Changes." The Union may want to use the information to bargain a consistent policy in the future.

2. The Employer’s Position

    With respect to light refreshments, the Employer proposes the following:

The FTRs, effective January 14, 2000, authorize travelers to be reimbursed for any registration/conference fee charged for the purpose of providing light refreshments. Therefore, SSA will reimburse travelers in accordance with the amended regulations.

In addition, when management determines that providing light refreshments is a necessary element of the conference/meeting, all attendees will be reimbursed if charged a registration/conference fee for the purpose of providing light refreshments. Where no fee is charged, and a determination is made that light refreshments are necessary, all attendees will be entitled to refreshments as provided. Treating all participants equally may be conducive to morale and be administratively more convenient and efficient.

With respect to training conferences, when the determination is made that light refreshments are considered necessary, SSA will provide them at no charge to the attendee.

The Employer maintains that its proposal is consistent with the FTRs and would allow management to retain the discretion it needs to determine whether providing light refreshments is a necessary aspect of a conference. A determination to provide light refreshments at a conference often is dictated by the budget set aside for the event and whether light refreshments would add any value to the conference.