SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION QUINCY FIELD OFFICE QUINCY, MASSACHUSETTS and LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

 

 

In the Matter of

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

QUINCY FIELD OFFICE

QUINCY, MASSACHUSETTS

and

LOCAL 1164, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

 

Case No. 98 FSIP 169

 

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 1164, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse, under 5 U.S.C. § 7119 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), between it and the Social Security Administration (SSA), Quincy Field Office, Quincy, Massachusetts (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel determined that the dispute, which arose during negotiations over changes in the office smoking policy, should be resolved on the basis of written submissions from the parties.(1) The parties were advised that after receiving their submissions, the Panel would take whatever action it deemed appropriate to resolve the impasse, which may include the issuance of a Decision and Order. 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 retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, and Supplemental Security Income entitlement programs. There are 19 bargaining-unit employees in the office who are part of a nationwide consolidated unit of approximately 48,000. Typically, employees hold positions such as claims or service representative, or they are part of the clerical support staff. At the national level, the parties’ master collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) which was to have expired on March 5, 1999, has been extended until a successor agreement is negotiated. The dispute arose during bargaining over the Employer’s proposal to eliminate the practice in the office whereby employees who smoke are permitted to take smoking breaks, in addition to the two 15-minute rest periods authorized by Article 10, Section 1B(2) of the master CBA.

ISSUE AT IMPASSE

    The sole issue in dispute is whether the practice of allowing employees to take smoking breaks should be continued.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer’s Position

    The Employer proposes that "employees who smoke must do so only during the two scheduled daily breaks and their lunch period." For the past 3 years, smokers routinely have been taking additional breaks; nonsmokers perceive this as unfair and some have complained to management about the additional breaks. Since similar smoking break practices have been eliminated in the SSA’s Dorchester (Massachusetts) Field Office, and many other SSA offices, there is no reason why smoking policy in the Quincy Field Office should not conform to the prevailing practices regarding smoking. Smoking breaks are not specifically authorized by either the master CBA or the parties’ national-level agreement concerning smoking policy which has been in effect since 1987. Moreover, continuing them would be inconsistent with the parties’ agreements at both the national and local levels to promote smoking cessation. The Panel has indicated in a previous decision concerning smoking policy in another SSA office, that it does not favor smoking breaks.(3) Even if such breaks are limited to workhours when the office is not open to the public, that is, before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m., employees still process work during non-public hours and additional breaks may be an impediment to providing service to the public. Management has witnessed some employees taking 15 to 20 minute breaks to smoke during nonpublic hours which is too long a period of time to be away from the work area. Since the building landlord recently prohibited smoking in the office stairwell, smokers must now go outside the building to smoke, making them relatively inaccessible should they be needed by management or other employees. Although the Union analogizes smoking breaks to breaks which employees take to use the restroom or get water, the comparison is misplaced since these "personal" breaks are much shorter in duration and all employees take them, not just smokers.

2. The Union’s Position

    The Union proposes:

Work intervals for the relief of personal necessity shall, for such matters as restroom use, drinking water and other such brief intervals, remain in effect in accordance with office past practices. Employees will continue to make reasonable efforts to take such brief intervals during non-public hours, to the extent it is feasible.

The intent of the proposal is to allow for the continuance of a long-standing past practice in the office whereby employees are permitted to take infrequent smoking breaks of short duration (3 to 5 minutes), during the office’s non-public workhours, in addition to the rest periods authorized under the parties’ CBA. The issue of smoking breaks has never been significant to management, which has allowed the practice to continue for many years, as employees attest in affidavits. Other SSA offices in Massachusetts (Malden, Lawrence and Somerville) also permit employees to take smoking breaks in addition to their regularly-scheduled rest periods. Since there are a decreasing number of smokers in the office, currently only five, the impact of continuing the practice would be minimal.

    Furthermore, under Article 1 of the CBA, local practices should remain in effect, unless they are "specifically covered by" the contract.(4) Since neither the master CBA, nor the 1987 national MOU on smoking policy, specifically address smoking breaks, and it does not