Public Sector Roundup: Impasses Panel Has Issued Just 10 Rulings in 12 Months


The Federal Service Impasses Panel has issued just 10 rulings since May 2015, which the FSIP's recently retired executive director said shows how effective the panel has been in resolving labor disputes between federal agencies and their unions.

According to Joseph Schimansky, who retired from federal service a day after he spoke April 29 at the annual conference of the Society of Federal Labor and Employment Relations Professionals, 75 percent of the cases where the panel asserted jurisdiction and used mediation/arbitration to resolve the impasse were settled voluntarily by the parties during the past 12 months.

The 10 rulings from the panel—which include decisions from the entire panel as well as arbitration rulings from individual panel members and the executive director—were in cases where the parties failed to settle, he said.

“It's been a very good year,” Schimansky said.

Employee relocations and office space issues continue to generate plenty of labor-management disputes in the federal sector, Schimansky and FSIP Chair Mary Jacksteit said at the conference, echoing remarks they made at last year's SFLERP conference.

The disputes come as federal agencies continue a long-standing push to reduce the government's real estate “footprint,” Jacksteit said.

In one case she decided March 4, the dispute began after the Navy determined that it would significantly reduce office space for shipyard engineers at the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard in New Hampshire, Jacksteit said.

The move to the new space—“really just long desks” with employees sitting side-by-side, Jacksteit said at the conference—was challenged by the engineers' union.

The agency then offered to convert the space into cubicles with more space and privacy. But the union still objected, urging the establishment of a completely new space, and the parties brought in the FSIP.

Ultimately, Jacksteit issued an order that called on the employer to improve the cubicle design but within the existing work space.

“That's the problem with relocation,” Jacksteit said. By the time the panel is brought in, a work space often has been designed and built, constraining the panel's options for remedying any issues.

Jacksteit noted, however, that the panel's decisions aren't precedential, which means that a decision on one issue doesn't necessarily influence succeeding opinions on the same or similar issues.

Although decisions from the FSIP—a component agency of the Federal Labor Relations Authority—generally are available from the FLRA's website, Schimansky noted, a couple of April 28 rulings haven't been posted yet.

One decision, from the full panel, that will be posted soon involves cigarette smoking at the U.S. Army Medical Command facility at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., he said.

Jacksteit said the Redstone Arsenal dispute came about because the Army, like other agencies within the U.S. military, is no longer seeking just to protect people from secondhand smoke at its facilities.

Now the Army wants to “get people to change their behavior” for purposes of safeguarding the health of employees and military personnel, conveying a positive image to the public and lowering its health insurance costs, she said.

Ultimately, Jacksteit said, the panel determined that the agency should allow employees to smoke while in their personal vehicles at the facility. This was a remedy earlier suggested by the union but rejected by management in the dispute, she said.

Schimansky, acting as an FSIP arbitrator, issued the other April 28 decision, which involved the Navy's Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

In the ruling, he said during the conference session, he determined that agency management wasn't obligated to offer bonuses this year to employees participating in a personnel demonstration project, established in 1999, that moved them out of the General Schedule pay system for white-collar federal employees.

The agency had determined that it didn't have enough funding to pay the bonuses in 2016. The union challenged that determination, arguing that the agency was obliged to pay the bonuses because it had sufficient cash at the beginning of the year.

“Hopefully, there will be money in the future” for bonuses under the demonstration project, Schimansky said.

In the same ruling, Schimansky said, he agreed with the union that management was obliged to offer affected employees compensatory time off in lieu of the bonuses.

Get up-to-date news and expert analysis from respected practitioners and Bloomberg BNA’s legal editors, and practical research tools with a free trial to the Labor & Employment Law Resource Center.