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NATCA Gets Big Win in Arbitration Case

NATCA President R. Steve Bell greeted the decision with enthusiasm and said that it “establishes clear and needed guidelines in a fundamentally important area and will in fact strengthen, not sully relations between NATCA and the FAA. There is no bad blood here.”

He went on to say that the arbitration should not be viewed as “adversarial but rather as an accepted means of communications in the labor relations arena.”

The expedited arbitration took into account three cases where a facility rep (LGB, ZDC, and ARR) had been denied permission to leave the facility to perform official duties. NATCA had met with the FAA on this issue in May, and it seemed at that time that the Union and Agency were talking the same language. However, as the list of arbitrary local rulings grew, it became apparent that the FAA was having difficulty communicating with its managers.

At the hearing, both NATCA and the FAA agreed that under Article 7, Sec. 2 of the contract, the manager may not require the facility representative to furnish details as to what he or she intends to do. However, that’s where the agreement ended.

The FAA argued that the grant of permission was an exercise of managerial discretion rather than of contract rights. On the other hand, NATCA insisted that the sole limitation was found in the opening proviso, “provided he/she can be released from duty.”

Once that is met, the contract places no geographical limit on where the FacRep uses the official time in performing his/her representational duties.

The FAA contended that it needed the “on facility” limitation to recall the reps to perform ATC duties should an emergency arise, e.g. and impending electrical storm, and to protect against abusers.

NATCA pointed out that its representatives do not have private offices or access to private phones for the conduct of what may be highly confidential business and that they often store information in their home computers which they do not want to transport to work.

As to recall, NATCA stated that it had no objection to its representatives leaving a phone number where they could be reached or checking back in with the facility from time to time. On the question of abuse, NATCA observed that the FAA has never contended that any rep was abusing official time privileges.

In deciding in favor of the Union, the Arbitrator said: “The Agency may withhold permission altogether if the employee cannot be released from duty. But once the determination is made that he can be released, the implication is that the Agency does not need his presence at the facility.”

The FAA had also argued that the facility representative is still being paid out of public funds while performing official duties.

The Arbitrator answered back, “This is true, but it is also true that the public has an interest in sound labor relations at the facility, in the proper administration of the Agreement, and in the representative’s proper performance of his representational duties.”

Therefore, the Arbitrator decided that: (1) a facility representative who is granted official time may pursue his/her representational duties off the premises; (2) no agenda is required, but the facility rep should inform the manager of his/her intention to leave the facility; and (3) the manager may impose some reasonable requirements such as periodic call-ins as protection against unexpected emergencies.

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