DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA MEDICAL CENTER ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA and LOCAL 446, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
VA MEDICAL CENTER
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

 

 

and

LOCAL 446, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF
  GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 02 FSIP 50

DECISION AND ORDER

    The Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Medical Center, Asheville, North Carolina (Employer) and Local 446, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) filed a joint request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119.

    Following investigation of the parties’ request for assistance in this case, which arose from negotiations over Union office space, the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved through an informal conference with a Panel Member. The parties were advised that if no settlement was reached, the Panel Member would report to the Panel on the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers and his recommendation for resolving the impasse. After considering this information, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, which could include the issuance of a binding decision.

    Pursuant to this procedural determination, the Panel Member met with the parties on July 18, 2002, at the VA Medical Clinic in Asheville, North Carolina. At the conclusion of the informal conference, the Employer agreed to explore whether it would be practicable to offer the Union office space which is currently occupied by the Nursing Education offices. A follow-up conference call with the parties was conducted on September 19, 2002. During the call, the Panel was informed that the Employer was unable to provide the Union the office space in Nursing Education. The parties subsequently were permitted to submit their final offers and brief supporting statements. The Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer’s mission is to provide eligible veterans and their dependents with medical and other health related services to meet the special needs of veterans. The Union represents approximately 993 employees who work as non-supervisory doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, pharmacists, social workers, and in various support staff positions, at grades GS-3 through -11 and WG-1 through -11. The master collective bargaining agreement (MCBA) expired in March 2000, but the agreement remains in effect under a contractual rollover provision.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over the amount and location of Union office space.

1.  The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes to provide the Union with approximately 148 square feet of additional office space once Room 106, in Building 14, is vacated. In order to accomplish this, the Employer would install a wall down the middle of the room: One-half of the office would be given to the Union; the other half of the office would be occupied by a personnel specialist. This would increase the Union’s office space allotment to 715 square feet. In addition, soundproofing would be installed in the newly-constructed wall and the existing wall between the Union’s office and the adjacent training room. Employees waiting to see the Union would have access to an alcove outside of the Union office or the nearby vending/break room. Furnishings, décor, and equipment for the new office space, would be provided in accordance with Article 48, § 1 of the MCBA. Similarly, conference room space for the Union’s use would be provided, as available, in accordance with Article 48, § 2;(1) such space is reserved electronically.

    The effort to relocate the Union’s office to space now occupied by Nursing Education in the basement of Building 47 was "contingent upon further space analysis and Nursing Service’s input on the consequences of the move." That effort was unsuccessful because the Acting Nurse Executive revealed that exchanging the two offices would have a "negative impact" on the VA Medical Center’s existing nursing school affiliations. Specifically, moving the Nursing Education space into a non-patient building would, among other things, separate the instructors from the students which in turn would diminish their teaching effectiveness; reduce the overall space of Nursing Education by 205 square feet, or more; and extend the distance between the nurses’ duty stations and training. More importantly, increasing the distance between Nursing Education and the nurses’ duty stations would create unfavorable working conditions which have a negative impact on recruitment efforts needed to alleviate the shortage of nursing staff.

    Considering the amount of space the Union currently occupies, the space criteria outlined in VA Handbook 7610, and existing provisions in Article 48 of the parties’ MCBA and the local supplement, the Union has sufficient space and equipment to meet its needs. "In an act of good faith," however, an additional 128 square feet is offered to be used as Union office space. The Employer cannot offer more space "without compromising [its] core directive for patient care."

2.  The Union’s Position