DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY U.S. ARMY GARRISON HEADQUARTERS, FORT BUCHANAN FORT BUCHANAN, PUERTO RICO AND LOCALS 2614 AND 3118, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
U.S. ARMY GARRISON
HEADQUARTERS, FORT BUCHANAN
FORT BUCHANAN, PUERTO RICO
LOCALS 2614 AND 3118, AMERICAN
FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT
Case No. 95 FSIP 98
DECISION AND ORDER
The Department of the Army, U.S. Army Garrison, Headquarters, Fort Buchanan, Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico (Employer), 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 Locals 2614 and 3118, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union).
Following an investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the impasse arising from negotiations over annual fees for a fitness center that opened in 1993(2) 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.
The Employer, a small military installation, provides logistical and administrative support, and security for tenant activities, reserve, and National Guard forces. The Union represents the interests of approximately 300, mainly lower graded, bargaining-unit employees in 2 locals. They work as custodial and maintenance workers, civilian technicians, and appropriated-fund activity employees. Only the civilian technicians are covered by a collective bargaining agreement; its expiration date was not reported.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The sole issue to be resolved concerns the amount of the annual fees, if any, that individual bargaining-unit employees should be required to pay for use of the fitness center.(3)
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union's Position
The Union proposes that bargaining-unit employees be permitted to use the fitness center without charge. This would be consistent with the long-term practice at the old gymnasium where employees could use the racquetball courts, free weights, Universal machine, and saunas for free. Regarding the Employer’s proposed fee structure, it does not take into account salary differences among employees: bargaining-unit employees earn, on average, $15,000 per year while managers, supervisors, and professional employees, including teachers, earn $45,000 or more per year. Lower paid employees should not be made to bear such a burden when the Employer could charge others larger amounts "to improve their bottom line." In addition, such "exorbitant fees" would discourage civilian employees from participating "in the wellness programs initiatives of the Government." Finally, in the community, fitness clubs offer low introductory rates ranging from $50 to $75 for the first year. The availability of such low rates, coupled with the "loyalty" owed to employees, support allowing them to use the fitness center for free; unit employees should not be forced to "seek a place to exercise outside the Fort."
2. The Employer's Position
Under the Employer’s proposal, bargaining-unit employees would pay $225 per year for memberships at the fitness center. Charging a fee is justified because the new, climate-controlled facility offers state-of-art exercise equipment, multiple basketball, volleyball, and racquetball courts, individual supervision and fitness evaluations, showers, saunas, and towels; it costs $134,700 annually to operate and maintain the new center. While employees were permitted to use two now defunct gymnasiums without charge, those facilities are not comparable; they offered few activities and little, if any, service. The proposed annual fee is a fair exchange, considering the value of the amenities to employees. Furthermore, changes in the fiscal climate, reflected in Army regulations, permit morale, welfare, and recreation activities such as the fitness center to charge user fees. Under such regulations, nonmilitary user fees are to be 25 percent less than fees charged by privately-operated fitness clubs. In this regard, locally, three private sector facilities surveyed charge members $375, $400, and $450 annually, plus additional fees for special activities; the proposed $225 fee, therefore, is consistent with such regulatory guidelines.
Having considered the evidence and arguments presented, we conclude that the Employer’s proposal, modified to take into account differences in the salary levels of bargaining-unit employees, should be adopted to resolve the dispute. At the outset, we agree with the Employer that the amenities formerly available at the old gymnasium are not comparable to those now offered at the new center. While we find that it is appropriate to require unit employees to make some modest contribution towards the support of the fitness center in exchange for significant benefits, we also agree, as the Union posits, that a flat fee may place too heavy a burden on lower paid employees. We are persuaded, therefore, under the circumstances of this case, that a sliding scale which adjusts for differences in salary levels is fairer than a flat fee. Accordingly, we shall order that the following annual fitness