U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority

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United States of America


In the Matter of









Case No. 98 FSIP 113






   Local 1615, National Federation of Federal Employees (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, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of the Air Force, Headquarters, 89th Airlift Wing, Andrews Air Force Base (AFB), Maryland (Employer).

    Following an investigation of the request for assistance concerning a dispute over whether civilian firefighters should be required to pay a surcharge on meals served at the Employer’s dining facilities, the Panel determined that the impasse should be resolved through an informal conference between a Panel representative and the parties. If the parties were unable to reach a settlement, the representative would notify the Panel of the status of the dispute, including the parties’ final offers, and his or her recommendations for resolving the impasse. The Panel would then take whatever action it deemed appropriate, including the issuance of a binding decision. Accordingly, Panel Representative (Staff Attorney) Donna M. DiTullio, assisted by Panel Representative (Staff Attorney) Sara L. Walsh, met with the parties on July 10, 1998, at Andrews AFB, Maryland. Although the parties explored settlement possibilities during the informal conference, they were unable to resolve the dispute. Both parties then were given an opportunity to submit written statements in support of their final proposals/positions; only the Employer submitted a summary statement of position. Ms. DiTullio reported to the Panel, which now has considered the entire record.


    The Employer, which is home base for Air Force One, provides airlift, logistics and communications support for the President, Vice President and key dignitaries as tasked by the Chief of Staff for the Air Force. There are two fire stations on the base which are manned by 53 military and 34 civilian firefighters, of whom 22 are bargaining-unit employees. Grade levels for civilian firefighters range from GS-4 through -8. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts consisting of 8 hours of regular duty, 8 hours of standby duty, and an 8-hour period for sleeping; they are in a pay status during meal periods. The parties’ collective-bargaining agreement (CBA), which was to have expired on July 7, 1998, has been extended until a successor is negotiated.

    The main fire station on the base has its own dining facility where lunch is served between the hours of 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 5:30 p.m. The other fire station does not provide food service but instead has a fully-equipped kitchen available to firefighters who wish to prepare or store their own food.

    In the past, firefighters were eligible for an exemption from paying a surcharge on meals purchased at Air Force appropriated fund dining facilities, pursuant to Air Force Regulation 146-7, dated April 17, 1992. In this regard, Section 5-9(b) of the regulation provides that "(w)hen the commander determines civilian firefighters must stay on duty during meal hours, they pay only the food charge" which does not include a surcharge. Thus, civilian firefighters at the Employer’s facility did not pay a surcharge because they were required to be on duty time while taking meals. The regulation also exempted numerous other categories of military personnel and civilian employees from paying a meal surcharge. Effective October 1, 1996, however, this exemption policy was changed by the Department of Defense (DoD) which determined, in a memorandum issued on September 9, 1996, from the office of the Under Secretary of Defense, that most personnel would be charged a single standard amount for meals served at DoD appropriated fund dining facilities, which included a surcharge. Furthermore, for the most part, DoD rescinded the authority of military components to grant surcharge exemptions to personnel. For 1997, DoD determined that the surcharge on food served in its appropriated fund dining facilities would be 30 percent; in 1998, the surcharge was increased to 33 percent.

    With the exception of airmen who live in base dormitories that do not have cooking facilities, and the bargaining-unit employees represented by the Union in this case, all other personnel who purchase meals at the Employer’s dining facilities now must pay a surcharge.


    The parties disagree over whether civilian firefighters at Andrews AFB should continue to be exempt from paying a surcharge on meals they purchase at the Employer’s dining facilities.


1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer contends that the Panel should relinquish jurisdiction over the matter because the Employer has no duty to bargain over the Union’s proposal to exempt firefighters from a meal surcharge. In this regard, neither the Air Force nor the Employer has discretion under the 1996 DoD directive to waive the surcharge on meals served to firefighters. Moreover, the Employer already has fulfilled its obligation to bargain over the impact and implementation of the change when it agreed to a Union proposal that the Employer request from DoD a waiver of the surcharge for firefighters. The Employer’s waiver request was summarily denied by the Department of the Air Force, Headquarters, which refused to convey it to DoD. Furthermore, the Union waived its right to bargain when it agreed, in Article 2 of the parties’ CBA, to be bound by "subsequently published agency policies and regulations required by law or by the regulations of appropriate authorities." Since DoD is an "appropriate authority" under the contract language, the Union is bound by the DoD directive.

    In the event that the Panel determines to retain jurisdiction, the Employer proposes to impose a 33-percent surcharge on meals purchased at the Employer’s dining facilities by civilian firefighters. In this regard, there is a demonstrated need for imposing a meal surcharge in that dining facilities are operating at a loss and a surcharge would help defray operating expenses. Food purchased at the Employer’s dining facilities already is heavily subsidized and adding a surcharge still would not raise the cost of food above what comparable food items would cost at non-base facilities. The vast majority of the military firefighters, who work side-by-side with civilian firefighters, are required to pay the meal surcharge. The morale of military firefighters, would be adversely affected if civilian firefighters are exempt from the surcharge, particularly when civilian firefighters earn more than their military counterparts. Since firefighters receive pay during meal periods, unlike most other Federal employees, the relatively small increase in the price of food with the surcharge added would have a minimal financial impact on them.(1)

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes that firefighters should remain exempt from paying any surcharge on meals purchased at the Employer’s dining facilities. Since firefighters have little opportunity to go off base for meals, due to the need to maintain excellent response times to service calls, they are "captives" of the Employer’s dining facilities and should be granted relief from surcharges to meals. While firefighters have the option of bringing in their own food for lunch and dinner, it is not a realistic one since, at the main fire station where most of them work, firefighters do not have access to the kitchen for long periods of time while it is being used by the cafeteria contractor for food preparation, service, and cleanup. Since firefighters are not highly-paid employees, raising the price of meals through a surcharge would have adverse financial consequences for them. Exempting firefighters from meal surcharges, on the other hand, would cost the Employer relatively little since there are only approximately 22 bargaining-unit employees who would receive the exemption.

    Furthermore, the Employer has not demonstrated a need for the surcharge since the dining facilities always have operated at a loss and the surcharge is not likely to change the situation. As to the Employer’s equity argument that the more highly-paid civilian firefighters should pay a meal surcharge because their military counterparts do, it is misplaced since military firefighters receive better benefits overall than civilian firefighters. Finally, there is precedent for exempting firefighters from meal surcharges, in that exemptions for bargaining-unit employees have been negotiated at Fort Ritchie, Maryland; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas.


    After careful review of the arguments and evidence presented, we conclude that the issue should be resolved on the basis of the Employer’s proposal on the merits.(2) In reaching this conclusion, we are persuaded that the economic impact of the meal surcharge on firefighters would be relatively minor. Even with a surcharge, meals are still subsidized by the Employer and would remain relatively inexpensive. Moreover, the Union has not demonstrated why these 22 bargaining-unit employees should be treated any differently than other civilian personnel (many of whom earn less than firefighters) or most military firefighters who must pay the surcharge. Finally, the Union’s comparability data are undocumented and likely refer to surcharge waivers negotiated by exclusive representatives prior to the September 9, 1996, DoD directive when surcharge waivers frequently were granted by DoD components. Accordingly, we shall order the adoption of the Employer’s proposal.


    Pursuant to the authority vested in it by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, 5 U.S.C. § 7119, and because of the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute during the course of proceedings instituted under 5 C.F.R. § 2471.6(a)(2) of the Panel’s regulations, the Federal Service Impasses Panel under 5 C.F.R. § 2471.11(a) hereby orders the following:

    The parties shall adopt the Employer’s proposal.


By direction of the Panel.

H. Joseph Schimansky

Executive Director

August 10, 1998

Washington, D.C.


1.An example of the effect of a 33-percent surcharge on food is that an item which currently is sold to firefighters for $1.50 would increase to $1.99.

2.Since we have decided to adopt the Employer’s proposal on the merits, it is unnecessary to address the Employer’s jurisdictional arguments.