DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION) OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA and COUNCIL 215, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

In the Matter of 

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND 

HUMAN SERVICES 

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION)

OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS 

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA 

and 

COUNCIL 215, AMERICAN FEDERATION 

OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

Case No. 90 FSIP 120

 

DECISION AND ORDER

Council 215, 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 section 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute) between it and the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Office of Hearings and Appeals, Falls Church, Virginia (Employer).

After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel directed the parties to meet informally with Staff Associate Ellen J. Kolansky for the purpose of resolving the issues at impasse. The parties were advised that if no settlement were reached, Mrs. Kolansky was to notify the Pane' of the status of the dispute, including the parties' final offers and her recommendations for resolving the matter. After considering this information, the Panel would taste whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse.

Mrs. Kolansky met with the parties on June 19 and 20, 1990. During the conference, two of the three issues were resolved. Accordingly, she reported to the Panel on the remaining issue based on the record developed by the parties. The Panel has now considered the entire record, including her recommendations for settlement.

BACKGROUND

The Employer, a component of the Social Security; Administration (SSA), adjudicates appeals of denials c' 2 retirement, medicare, and disability claims by SSA, and defends appeals of its decisions in the Federal courts. Besides the headquarters office, it maintains 142 hearing offices in 10 regions nationwide (124 have bargaining-unit employees), word processing and development centers, and Hyatt offices(1) at several locations. Although the general public does not visit these offices, attorneys, expert witnesses, and claimants do. The Union represents approximately 2,218 employees who work as paralegals, clerks, computer and programming specialists, and hearing assistants. They are a part of a nationwide consolidated bargaining unit represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO. The parties' relationship is governed by a master labor agreement which became effective in January 1990.

For over 15 years, flexitime schedules have been available to most employees at the Office of Hearings and Appeals. This is the last of the six SSA components to negotiate alternative work schedules under a provision in the master agreement. Prior to the informal conference, the parties agreed that headquarters employees and decision writers in the field would be permitted to select a5-4-9 schedule. During the conference, the parties agreed on a pilot program for credit hours(2) with participation by: (1) certain headquarters offices; (2) 30 field hearings and appeals offices; (3) 1 Hyatt office; (4) 1 word processing center; and (5) 1 processing center. They also agreed that time clocks would not be used.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

The issue concerns the designation of field Hearings and Appeals Offices permitted to participate in the 5-4-D compressed work schedule plan.

1. The Employer's Proposal

The Employer proposes that "offices in the nation with 26 or more bargaining-unit employees, based on staffing as of June 21, 1990, will be allowed to participate in the 5-4-9 [p]lan. In addition, the Employer will designate an office from each [of the three regions] without an office of 26 or more bargaining[-]unit employees." Word processing centers, processing centers, and Hyatt offices would not be included.

In support of its proposal, it asserts that the mission-related goals of good public service and adequate support during appeals hearings held by administrative law judges would be met by limiting participation to larger offices. Its proposal would prevent disruptions to service and delays in case processing since more employees would be present to fill in for those absent on days off. Strain on those at work also could be kept under better control. Since it predicts that at least 25 percent of employees would have the opportunity to participate when the effect of the 5-4-9 option on the mission is unknown, this is a generous offer. Although the Union suggests that 9-hour days would permit an extension of hearing times to the late afternoon, the Employer doubts that the judges would be amenable to such changes. Finally, it objects to the 5-4-9 option for large offices such as the word processing ,centers where employees work shifts.

2. The Union's Proposal

Under its proposal, employees working in the following offices would have the option to participate in 5-4-9: (1) 2 processing centers, 3 Hyatt class-action processing centers, and 4 word-processing centers; (2) field hearing offices with 21 or more employees as of the pay period ending July 14, 1990; and (3) 1 office in Region 1. A semi-annual review would be conducted to determine whether other offices had reached the requisite size, and, therefore, could participate. Such additions would be made effective the following quarter.

The Union asserts that the option would not affect the scheduling of hearings in smaller offices since such hearings are arranged months in advance. Furthermore, there is another provision of their agreement which would ensure adequate staffing by requiring that only 15 percent of the employees would be permitted to take their day off at any given time. Others, of course, might be absent on scheduled leave. Moreover, employees in smaller offices are more accustomed to filling in for each other, hearings could be held later in the day, and morale would be improved.

CONCLUSIONS

Having considered the evidence and arguments in this case, we conclude that the issue should be resolved by adopting a compromise provision based on the Employer's proposal, modified to permit an annual review of office size to determine whether or not offices have increased to 26 {or bargaining-unit employees, and would, therefore, qualify to participate in the 5-4-9 option. This resolu