DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA CONNECTICUT HEALTHCARE SYSTEM NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT and LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO
United States of America
BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL
In the Matter of
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
VA CONNECTICUT HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
LOCAL R1-109, NATIONAL
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SEIU, AFL-CIO
Case No. 97 FSIP 144
DECISION AND ORDER
Local R1-109, National Association of Government Employees, SEIU, AFL-CIO (Union), 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 (the Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Veterans Affairs (DVA), VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Newington, Connecticut (Employer).(1)
After investigation of the request for assistance, which concerns the establishment of a compressed work schedule (CWS) for the mail room unit at the Newington facility (or campus), the Panel determined that the dispute should be resolved on the basis of single written submissions from the parties, after which a Decision and Order would be issued. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.
The VA Connecticut Healthcare System operates two hospitals (Newington and West Haven) which provide inpatient and outpatient health care services to veterans in Connecticut; the two facilities were previously operated separately, but have merged into one consolidated health care operation. The Union represents, at the local level, approximately 200 bargaining-unit employees at the Newington facility; employees at the West Haven facility are represented by another union. The parties are governed by the terms of the master agreement between DVA and NAGE, due to expire in May 1998, as well as a local supplement which runs concurrently with the master agreement. The Newington mail room unit has two employees assigned to it, only one of whom is a bargaining-unit member. The other is a compensated work therapy (CWT) veteran.
ISSUE AT IMPASSE
The sole issue in dispute is whether the Panel should order the Employer to establish a CWS for bargaining-unit employees in the Newington mail room.
POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
1. The Union’s Position
The Union proposes the following 4-10 CWS for bargaining-unit employees in the mail room unit for a 6-month trial period: Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with Mondays off. The proposed schedule would provide adequate coverage for mail room functions because employees from West Haven currently substitute when the bargaining-unit employee in Newington takes annual or sick leave. Moreover, "at any time the agency has available to it resources with which to cover the mail room functions including filling vacant positions." The position description of the incumbent bargaining-unit employee who would be affected by the CWS states that her mail room duties are only "assistive in nature," further supporting the adoption of its proposal.(2) The 6-month trial period would allow the parties "to generate sufficient data to determine an ultimate arrangement."
2. The Employer’s Position
The Employer opposes the CWS proposed by the Union because it would be incompatible with the core mail delivery hours, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5-days-a-week. In this regard, when the bargaining-unit employee is absent, there are scheduling, staffing, and coordination problems between the two campuses. Conversely, maintaining the status quo avoids the need on a regular basis to bring in either an employee or supervisor from West Haven, 45 miles away, to cover for the bargaining-unit employee on the proposed Monday off day. In addition, the amount of mail doubles on Monday because it includes Saturday’s mail. The CWT veteran, who is technically not an agency employee, cannot handle the Monday mail delivery alone, and also lacks access to the computer system to supplement the bargaining-unit employee’s computer record-keeping duties. Daily delivery is important because the mail contains pharmaceuticals and other time-sensitive items that must be delivered the same day as received. Overall, the mail room unit has too few employees to support the CWS proposed by the Union. In negotiations, the Employer offered to explore alternative schedules, but the Union refused.
Having carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments presented in this case, we are persuaded that the Union should withdraw its proposal. In our view, the number of employees in the mail room unit at Newington is insufficient to support the 4-10 CWS proposed by the Union. In this connection, the mail room functions require daily mail delivery between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The current schedule, where the bargaining-unit employee works 5-days-a-week, ensures daily mail delivery. The Union’s proposal, however, would impede mail delivery at the Newington campus, particularly on Mondays when the volume of mail is the highest, and result in weekly scheduling and staffing problems far greater than the occasional ones arising when current employees take sick or annual leave. It would increase the workload for the CWT v