U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority

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In the Matter of an Interest Arbitration











Case No. 90 FSIP 141


The Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Greenport, New York (Employer or PIADC) filed a request with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under section 7119(b)(1) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute) between it and Local 1940, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union). The parties accepted the Panel's recommendation, pursuant to section 2471.6(a)(2) of its regulations, to submit the dispute to the undersigned for mediation-arbitration whereby I was vested with authority to mediate with respect to all outstanding issues, and render a decision should any remain unresolved.

On August 21, 1990, representatives of the parties convened before me at the Employer's facility on Plum Island located off the eastern coast of Long Island, New York. When the parties were unable to reach an agreement: during mediation, a hearing was held. The parties were afforded the opportunity to present in full their respective positions, offer testimony, cross-examine witnesses, and submit documentary evidence for the record. Conference calls were held with the parties on September 5, 13., and 18, 1990, In an attempt to narrow the issue. Post-hearing briefs were filed, and I have now considered I the entire record.

The Employer's mission is to conduct research to protect U.S. commodities against catastrophic economic losses caused by foreign animal disease agents accidentally or deliberately introduced into the United States. The bargaining unit consists of approximately 200 General Schedule and Wage Grade employees, the majority of whom hold skilled trade and administrative positions. Approximately 11 members of the bargaining unit are part of the marine crew which operates the ferry boats that transport passengers, equipment, and supplies to Plum Island and back from Orient Point, New York, and Old Saybrook, Connecticut. These employees are compensated under the Marine Wage System, 5 U.S.C. § § 5348, and have their wages determined by the prevailing rates and practices in the maritime industry.(1) Marine crew members hold positions such as pilot, chief engineer, assistant engineer, and able seaman.

The parties have negotiated a master collective-bargaining agreement which is in effect until May 5, 1991. Pertinent to the dispute herein is Article XVII, entitled Marine Wage System, which provides in section 2, as follows:

SECTION 2. Beginning the first full pay period on or after the effective date of this contract, marine crew wages will be increased by 5 percent. Thereafter, wage rates for vessel employees in the representation unit will be adjusted at the same proportion of cost-of-living increases and on the same date as Wage Grade employees in the representational unit. On or before the anniversary date for each subsequent year of this contract, the Center and the Union agree to bargain over the question of marine crew wages as found in this Section. . . .

Marine crew employees received a 4.1 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) effective July 1, 1989, and a 3.6 percent COLA effective July 1, 1990, the same adjustment received by Wage Grade employees in the bargaining unit. The parties, however, disagree over the amount of any additional wage increases for the marine crew during those years which would have taken effect each May, coinciding with the anniversary date of the term agreement.


The parties stipulated the issue as follows: To what extent, if any, should wages for the marine vessel crew be increased beyond the 4.1 percent COLA for 1989, and the 3.6 percent COLA for 1990, which these employees have received.


1. The Union

The Union proposes that employees on the marine crew receive an increase of 5 percent of their pay for 1989, and another 5 percent for 1990. The Union maintains that the cost of living in the Long Island, New York, area rose by "at least 6 percent during 1989 and 1990, " respectively. (Un. Br. 2). The adjustment, as proposed, would keep marine crew wages competitive in the local labor market since these employees do not receive step increases in their pay as do Wage Grade employees; rather, the only wage adjustment which they receive is an annual cost-of-living increase, the amount of which is determined by whatever pay adjustment is afforded the Wage Grade employees at the Employer's facility, and any wage increase negotiated pursuant to the parties' term agreement.

The Union contends that the Employer can well afford the pay increase proposed, noting that the Employer has spent, over the past 3 years, some $1.5 million to refurbish facilities. Furthermore, the adjustment proposed is fair and equitable, intended to bring traditionally lower Federal-sector wages in line with those in the private sector. In this regard, the Union maintains that it is implicit under 5 U.S.C. § § 5348 that wages for the Plum Ashland marine crew be adjusted based upon a comparison with other marine crews in the prevailing area. It alleges that a comparison of the wages received by the marine crews on two privately-owned ferry companies in the area, the North Ferry and the Bridgeport Ferry, as well the Governors Island Ferry,(2) indicates that wages for the Plum Island marine crew fall short by an average of 13 percent. Finally, the Union argues in its brief that the wage survey which determines the base pay for the Employer's Wage Grade employees showed that an 8 percent increase in both 1989 and 1990, was warranted.(3)

2. The Employer

The Employer proposes that wages for the marine crew be established according to the following procedure:

1. The parties will request information on the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) wage increases paid during the 1989 and 1990 calendar years by the following ferryboat companies: Governors Island Ferry, Cross Sound Ferry, North Ferry, and Fire Island Seashore Ferry.
2. Based on the COLA wage increase information received from the companies, the parties will determine the average annual percentage COLA wage increase for the companies surveyed.
3. The parties will compare the average percentage COLA wage increase (derived from the ferryboat survey information) to the annual percentage COLA wage increase to be received by Wage Grade employees (derived from the annual wage grade schedule) working at PIADC.
4. Where the average percentage COLA wage increase derived from the ferryboat survey information is less than the percentage COLA wage increase received by the Wage Grade employees (derived from the annual Wage Grade schedule) the PIADC marine crew will receive only the percentage COLA wage increase received by Wage Grade employees working at PlADC (as required by the master agreement). If the average percentage COLA wage increase derived from the ferryboat survey information is greater than the Wage Grade COLA wage increase, the PIADC marine crew will receive the Wage Grade COLA wage increase plus a percentage wage increase which, when added to the Wage Grade COLA wage increase, would result in the marine crew employees receiving a total annual percentage COLA wage increase equal to that derived from the ferryboat survey information.

The Employer contends that its proposal, if adopted, would provide a logical means for allowing marine crew employees to catch up with private-sector marine crews should economic conditions in the local labor market spawn an increase in wages which substantially exceed the annual COLA given to Wage Grade employees and the marine crew in July. Thus, marine crew employees would have the benefit of receiving the automatic cost-of-living increase extended to all Federal Wage System employees, a benefit which is not shared by all employees in the local labor market, as well as a means to ensure that these annual adjustments are in parity with the cost-of-living wage increases received by employees in the local labor market.

As a concession to the Union, the Employer has agreed to include the Governors Island Ferry in the wage survey, even though it is outside the labor market from which the Employer typically draws its employees. Contrary to the Union's contention, the Employer's ability to finance a cost-of-living adjustment should not be a justification for imposing one. Rather, the question is how do marine crew wages at Plum Island compare with those in the local labor market. The Employer maintains that these employees already receive fringe benefits which surpass those offered by private employers in the area, something which should be factored into a comparability analysis of wages in the labor market in which the Employer operates.


Having considered the evidence and arguments presented by the parties, the Employer's proposal, on balance, provides a more reasonable resolution of the dispute. In this regard, the "formula" devised by the Employer to determine whether employees should receive a further increase in their pay in addition to the July 1989 and 1990 COLAs, effectuates the purposes of 5 U.S.C. § 5348(a), the statute under which marine-crew employees are paid; that is, it would link marine crew wages to the prevailing wage rates in the maritime industry, thereby allowing local labor market conditions to determine whether there should be an adjustment in wages. A survey of selected ferryboat companies, three of which are in the immediate vicinity of the Employer's operation, would reveal whether the wages paid to the marine crew are competitive within the local labor market.

While the Employer's proposal offers no guarantee that a survey would show that wages for the ferryboat crews have increased during 1989 and 1990, it would insulate employees from having their wages reduced should the survey indicate a decline in wage rates among the companies surveyed.

As to the Union's proposal calling for a 5 percent increase in wages for marine crew employees for 1989 and 1990, the proposal is, essentially, unsubstantiated. In this regard, while no one would seriously dispute that the cost of living in the Long Island, New York, area has done anything but increase over the past few years, the Union has failed to put into the record any documentary evidence to support its claim that the cost of living in 1989 and 1990 for that geographic vicinity rose by tat least 6 percent," or that other local ferryboat operators pay on the average of 5 percent higher wages than the Employer. Moreover, there is no indication how the proposal would further the mandate of 5 U.S.C. § 5348(a), that wages be adjusted in accordance with the "prevailing rates and practices in the maritime industry."


The parties shall adopt the Employer's proposal.

Donna M. Di Tullio


December 21, 1990

Washington, D.C.

1. § 5348. Crews of vessels 

(a) Except as provided by subsections (b) and (c) in this section, the pay of officers and members of crews of vessels excepted from chapter 51 of this title by section 5102(c)(8) of this title shall be fixed and adjusted from time to time as nearly as is consistent with the public interest in accordance with prevailing rates and practices in the maritime industry

2. The Governors Island Ferry I:, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard: its marine crew consists of Federal employees. The union representing the marine crew no longer negotiates wages. The ferry transport, passengers between Staten Island, New York and Governors Island. Although it is approximately 100 miles away from Plum Island, New York, it is the closest ferry operation which employs Federal workers. The marine crew received the same cost-of-living adjustment of 4.1 percent in 1989, and 3.6 percent in 1990, as other Federal employees.

3.  The Union did not distinguish whether base pay for the Wage Grade employees at the Employer's; facility was increased by 8 percent during both 1989 and 1990, in addition to the cost-of-living adjustment authorized for Wage Grade employees of 4.1 percent in 1989, and 3.6 percent in 1990.