DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY U.S. ARMY FIELD ARTILLERY CENTER AND FORT SILL FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA and LOCAL 273, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of)

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY)

U.S. ARMY FIELD ARTILLERY CENTER)

AND FORT SILL)

FORT SILL, OKLAHOMA)

and)

LOCAL 273, NATIONAL FEDERATION)

OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES)

Case No. 91 FSIP 213)

 

DECISION AND ORDER

Local 273, National Federation of Federal Employees (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 the Army, U.S. Army Field Artillery Center and Fort Sill, Fort Sill, Oklahoma (Employer).

The Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through written submissions from the parties, with the Panel to take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

The overall mission of Fort Sill is to provide artillery training to U.S. Army forces; the installation houses 13 tenant activities or commands, each of which performs a separate function. The bargaining unit consists of approximately 1,800 employees who work in various occupations in four of the commands.1/ The parties are at impasse following negotiations for a new term agreement; the prior contract expired on December 2, 1989, but remains in effect until a successor is implemented.2/

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

The parties are at impasse over two issues: (1) competitive areas 3/ and (2) official time.

 

1. Competitive Areas

a. The Union's Position

The Union proposes the following:

The competitive area for a reduction in force (RIF) shall include all appropriated-fund employees of Fort Sill, for which the commanding general of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, has appointing authority.

The Union maintains that combining all 13 of the existing competitive areas into 1 would maximize the number of placement opportunities for qualified senior employees should a RIF occur. Because many employees possess skills which are readily transferable between commands, a single area would, in its view, result in the retention of more experienced employees during periods of reduced operations. The Union believes that a single area would be consistent with the current practice, which allows displaced employees to cross commands for purposes of reemployment and repromotion, as well as with the result reached by the Panel in several similar cases.4/ The Union concludes that its proposal should be adopted as it "is in the best interests of all employees of the unit."

b. The Employer's Position

The Employer proposes maintenance of the status Quo, i.e., for RIF purposes, tenant activities would remain separate competitive areas. According to the Employer, the current system of multiple competitive areas is consistent with the organizational structure at the installation and has worked well during past RIFs; in its view, there is no demonstrated need to change. The Employer also alleges that retention of multiple areas would be less disruptive to the overall operation of each command. In this regard, it maintains that employees within a particular command are likely to be more familiar with occupations within that activity, and, therefore, should require less time to become familiar with a new job. The Employer points out that since the current practice allows employees to cross commands for purposes of reemployment and repromotion, increased opportunities for displaced employees are already provided. It also emphasizes that the current system is consistent with other personnel practices at the installation which are command-directed and notes specifically that merit promotion opportunities are available only to candidates from within the activity where a vacancy occurs. The Employer argues that the Union's proposal could have a disproportionate negative impact on employees in lower graded occupations. It believes that a single competitive area would be overly disruptive to the installation and difficult to administer.

CONCLUSIONS

Having considered the arguments and evidence on this issue, we conclude that neither party's proposal would provide an adequate resolution to the impasse. In examining the Employer's proposal, we believe that it does not pay adequate deference to the seniority of more experienced bargaining-unit employees and fails to recognize that many employees possess skills which are readily transferable between activities. In arguing that a single competitive area would have a negative impact on the efficiency of individual commands, the Employer has apparently overlooked the fact that Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations require that an employee possess the necessary qualifications before he or she can bump or retreat into a lower graded position.5/ We also note that the existing system of separate competitive areas appears to be internally inconsistent, as it prohibits employees from bumping or retreating into positions outside their competitive areas during a RIF but allows displaced employees to cross competitive areas for purposes of reemployment. In our view, this undercuts the Employer's argument that a single competitive area would have a negative impact on efficiency. The Union's proposal also is deficient, however, because it would require activities where it does not represent employees to become part of a single competitive area. This could increase the total number of employees affected by a RIF while creating an unnecessary administrative burden.

Thus, we shall order the adoption of a compromise which strikes a better balance between the competing interests in this case. Accordingly, for RIF purposes, those four activities which employ bargaining-unit members shall be combined into one competitive area and shall include all positions within those activities. This approach should provide increased opportunities for qualified senior employees while minimizing the administrative burden on the Employer.

2. Official Time

a. The Union's Position

The Union proposes the following:

The NFFE may designate one local representative to receive 40 hours per week of official time to conduct representational activities. The NFFE may designate four additional representati[ves) for