Washington—The American Federation of Government Employees recently won a victory in its efforts to protect the rights of Customs and Border Protection officers on shifts and work assignments.
An arbitrator ruled that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), must bargain with local unions—not simply with national unions—on issues covered by collective bargaining agreements such as shift hours, overtime, and communications with bargaining units members on grievances, personnel policies, and other areas (Case No. NY-2005-1596, Arbitrator’s Docket No. 05433-B, COSS Grievance).
The arbitrator’s decision grew out of a grievance filed Feb. 8, 2005, by AFGE Local 1917 on behalf of federal workers at John F. Kennedy Airport under Articles 9(A) and (9) of an accord, known as Agreement 2000, which covered “legacy” employees from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service. The local union accused CBP of changing long-established practices on shifts and work assignments without negotiating or discussing them with the locals.
The agency argued, however, that Agreement 2000 was superseded by Executive Order 13203, which relieved agency from certain collective bargaining obligations but did not prohibit them from such bargaining, and the National Inspectional Assignment Policy (NIAP).The agency claimed the union failed to exercise its right to bargain over the NIAP when that document was issued, but the arbitrator ruled that the union provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it did request bargaining, including filing several unfair labor practice charges with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
When the federal government set up DHS, it said that all collective bargaining obligations that existed in the agencies folded into the department would “carry forward” and remain active.
The grievance charged CBP with changing practices, such as posting temporary and permanent schedules and permitting employees to trade shifts.
In her decision, labor arbitrator Jeanne M. Vonhof concluded that CBP “violated the agreement by failing to notify the union and proceed to bargaining under Article 9(A) over changes in policies, practices, and/or working conditions arising from the change to the [customs overtime and scheduling] system.” Vonhoff said also some of the concerns raised by the union in its grievance may have been resolved by now. “To the extent that problems still exist that constitute changes in policies, practices or working conditions caused by the switch to COSS, however, the agency is required to bargain with the union over them, under Article 9(A).”
Stephen Weekes, president of Local 1917, said Dec. 6 that the “arbitration is significant based on the fact that now other locals can use this award for themselves when they are having trouble with NIAP.” He added that the decision means that CBP “still has to enter into good faith negotiations with locals” on labor issues and that because “our collective bargaining agreement is still in effect,” the agency has the “obligation to enter into good faith bargaining with locals.”