DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE WESTERN REGION LAGUNA NIGUEL APPEALS OFFICE LAGUNA NIGUEL, CALIFORNIA AND CHAPTER 81, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

WESTERN REGION

LAGUNA NIGUEL APPEALS OFFICE

LAGUNA NIGUEL, CALIFORNIA

AND

CHAPTER 81, NATIONAL TREASURY

EMPLOYEES UNION

Case No. 92 FSIP 192

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Chapter 81, National Treasury Employees Union (Union or NTEU), 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 (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Western Region, Laguna Niguel Appeals Office, Laguna Niguel, California (Employer or IRS).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse concerning window coverings for offices should be resolved on the basis of 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 Employer's mission is to administer the Nation's tax laws. NTEU represents approximately 112,000 IRS employees within 2 nationwide consolidated bargaining units. The parties have separate collective-bargaining agreements for each unit that expire on June 30, 1994. The dispute concerns approximately 27 bargaining-unit employees which Chapter 81 represents in the Employer's Appeals Office located in Laguna Niguel, California. Those affected hold positions as Appeals Officers whose duties include meeting with taxpayers and their representatives to negotiate settlements over delinquent taxes.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether there should be coverings over the glass panels in Appeals Officers' offices.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that "the Agency will install mini-blinds on all interior glass walls in the offices occupied by and/or designated for Appeals Officers in the Laguna Niguel Appeals Office. These blinds will be installed on the inside of said offices so they can be operated by the occupant of the office." In support of its proposal, it makes similar arguments as in Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Portland District Office, Portland, Oregon and National Treasury Employees Union, Case No. 90 FSIP 151 (Release No. 310) (Portland District Office).(1) In this regard, the option of utilizing mini-blinds would allow greater privacy in Appeals Officers' offices, where most duties are performed, and would help prevent distractions from hallway traffic. Further, employee morale would improve because a Union survey indicates that the "overwhelming majority" of Appeals Officers want them.

    Any daylight coming to interior offices through outside window offices is "negligible" because of the distances involved. Moreover, there is no policy concerning the mini-blinds that are already in offices with outside windows. Technically, an employee in such an office can close the blinds at will, thus undercutting the Employer's primary argument that their use on interior glass walls would reduce the amount of natural light entering the building. In fact, even if all employees shut mini-blinds all the time, two-thirds of all possible "outside viewing" areas would still be uncovered. Since taxes are a sensitive topic, mini-blinds would ensure privacy between taxpayers and Appeals Officers, possibly putting taxpayers at ease. Conducting such interviews in conference rooms is not preferred because of all the paperwork that needs to be moved. The Employer's argument that IRS policy requires uncovered glass panels is irrelevant since the parties have a settlement agreement obligating the Employer to negotiate over the matter. Finally, the report done by the Employer's consultants deals mostly with "the benefits of having windows," while the main reason for its proposal is to ensure that Appeals Officers have privacy when conducting their work.

2. The Employer's Position

    Essentially, the Employer would have the Panel order the Union to withdraw its proposal. In this regard, the Portland District Office case is distinguishable from this one, as demonstrated in its 40-page report written by two consultants hired to study the Laguna Niguel District Office building.(2) Furthermore, unlike the earlier case, employees in Laguna Niguel never had private offices, and visual privacy was never its goal when it designed its new offices. Its primary purposes for using glass panels were to ensure sound privacy and permit as much daylight as possible in the interior offices, as required by IRS policy. Employees are less likely to be disrupted while on the telephone, in meetings, or working intently, if they are observed by others through the glass panels, and taxpayers are less apt to become irate or disruptive if they know they may be observed from outside the meeting room. It is also the case that "Appeals Officers are free to rearrange their office furniture so they do not face the glass panel," but most have not done so, indicating that privacy is not a big issue for them. If they want more privacy, "they have the option of holding meetings in conference rooms." Moreover, "there have been no complaints over the current practice of uncovered windows" to warra