Federal Labor Relations Authority
1400 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20424-0001

Dear Sir/Madam:

Re: O-NG-2735 NFFE Local 1998,
IAMAW, Federal District 1 and U.S.
Department of State, Passport
Services, Seattle, Washington

This letter responds to the Union's brief in the referenced negotiability appeal. The Agency received the Union's filing on November 26, 2003. The Agency wishes to correct some inaccuracies.

The Union would have the Agency make light of supervisors' rights as employees under the Work Schedules Act; legitimate security concerns in today's Passport Services environment; and the legitimate need for supervisory oversight. The Agency believes it has both obvious and legal bases for these three concerns and we urge the Authority to respect these concerns. The Agency is respectful of and tried to accommodate the legitimate concerns of the Union's constituency. We succeeded with most but not all. Management proposed and the union agreed to allow employees the option to elect a shorter lunch period. With the option of shorter lunch periods, most of the affected employees are able to arrive at work later and depart at the usual departure time. If employees prefer to continue to arrive at work at the same time as before, there are numerous coffee shops in the immediate vicinity of the Federal Building or the in-house cafeteria where the employees can wait. All employees of the Seattle Passport Regional Office take advantage of the Employer's transportation subsidies to use public transportation; the change to the earliest start time did not change that benefit. Despite the Union's claims to the contrary, the Agency argues there is no real impact.

Turning now to the inaccuracies, the Agency notes the following. The Union claims throughout its brief that the parties engaged in substantive bargaining in the Union-Management Council meetings. This is not true. The Seattle Union-Management Council does not engage in traditional negotiations. Rather, the Council considers problems at the predecisional stage; decisions are made by consensus, in accordance with Article 4 of the contract.

Secondly, the Union makes reference to other Passport regional offices throughout its brief. The issue under consideration by the FLRA in the instant negotiability appeal is a local issue. It is clearly defined as such by Article 26 of the contract. Therefore, what the Miami, Houston, Honolulu, San Francisco or the other Regional Passport Offices do with regard to their start times is irrelevant to this issue.

It is true that two supervisors (RD Bobotek and the Customer Service Manager) currently start at 8:30 am. As stated in previous filings, the Customer Service Manager came off of his CWS to work a standard tour of duty. Their delayed start time provides the requisite supervisory coverage at the end of the work-day. Also, the supervisors remain in the office until 5:15 PM (after the employees leave) in part to walk through the office to ensure that everything, including controlled items, applications, documents, and cases are all locked up in cabinets. if those supervisors arrived earlier and remained on-the regular schedule, they may not be available to stay later and ensure that documents and boxes of applications are not left out. Additionally, the supervisors' later start time allows bargaining unit employees to work the longer hours associated with compressed work schedules. Clearly, this is to the benefit of unit employees.

The Union makes much hay over the duty officer program throughout its brief. It is undisputed that the Seattle Passport Regional Office does not use bargaining unit employees to perform this duty, so the issue is irrelevant. Mr. Walle's claim found in bold face type on page 33 of the Union's brief that unit "employees were working in the office the weekend before you read this and will be there again next weekend, all without supervisors present" presumably refers to the duty officer program. RD Bobotek is adamant that the 19 occasions Mr. Walle refers to in the following sentence did not happen in Seattle. Since he previously worked in the Los Angeles Regional Passport Office, perhaps those occasions took place when Mr. Walle was employed there.

Even if the duty officer program were relevant and Seattle PPT unit employees were required to perform duty officer responsibilities (which they do not), the Agency believes there are sufficient safeguards in place to preclude passport malfeasance and thus not require supervisory coverage during the performance of duty officer duties. In brief, the duty officer program works as follows: there is a Headquarters Passport Services duty officer who receives the calls for emergency issuance of passports. That individual calls the duty officer (who carries a cell phone and a beeper at all times while serving as duty officer) at the regional Passport Office that will be issuing the passport and provides the names and other identifying information about the individual(s) who are seeking a passport. The access of the duty officer to blank passport books and the duty officer's actions using the computer systems are closely monitored, to include a systems notice alert that pops up on the Regional Director's personal computer that they have a case to audit.

As for the Systems Administrator, there are times when she must accompany contractors into the office to install software upgrades and modifications to the computerized passport issuance system. It would make no sense to bring work to a halt during normal working hours in order to install the new software. If the upgrades require access to blank passport books (for example, to test printing of a passport book), then either RD Bobotek or ARD Atkins is present with the Systems Administrator and the contract personnel.

The Union is confused as to the authority that flows to the local versus national union representatives to engage in negotiations. The local union and management representatives have such authority only to the extent the national labor agreement authorizes them to do so.

On page 10 of the Union's brief, the Union suggests in paragraph number 16 that Management decided to restrict the duty officer program because of the rarity of cases and the lack of keys. While Management did decide about this time to eliminate unit employees performing this function, it was not for those reasons. Rather, a new passport issuance system went into effect at that time that required the user to bring up the entire system. (That requirement has since been modified). RD Bobotek decided to restrict to supervision the duty officer user responsibilities to avoid unsupervised access to the entire issuance system.

On page 11, paragraph 26, the Union claims that "management invoked formal negotiations." In reality, Seattle VP Rob Arnold requested negotiations in his May 6, 2003 memo (Union Appeal, Atch I). The parties continued to meet in an attempt to reach consensus, but decided to schedule a traditional negotiating session on May 27. Also on page 11, paragraph number 29, RD Bobotek stands by the statement that she directed Adjudication Manager Cornaby to work from 6:45 am - 3:30 pm.

Turning to page 12 paragraph 34, it should be noted that Assistant RD Atkins verbally declared the union's proposals nonnegotiable on June 13, 2003.

Conclusion

Management continues to hold that the Union's Proposal 1, 2, and 3 are nonnegotiable because they violate section 6122(a) of the Work Schedules Act (5 U.S.C. 6122(a)). The proposals seek to infringe upon management's inviolate statutory rights concerning unit employees and non-unit supervisory employees. The proposals also seek to violate the existing CA/PPT - NFFE Local 1998 contract. We respectfully request that the union's negotiability appeal be denied.

Respectfully Submitted:


Susan E. Moorse
Agency Representative
U.S. Department of State