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DISPUTE RESOLUTION

Requests for Information, Counseling, and Mediation

The Office provides legislative branch employees with a neutral, confidential, and efficient process for resolving disputes arising under the CAA. Employees and employing offices may, at any time, seek informal advice and information on the procedures of the Office and the rights, protections, and responsibilities afforded under the CAA and the substantive rules. The Office responds to all inquiries on a confidential basis, and tracks both the number and the nature of the inquiries.

Under the CAA, employees must request counseling and mediation under the auspices of the Office of Compliance before filing a formal complaint. The Office provides counseling and mediation in a neutral, confidential setting. During the 30-day counseling period, the counselor evaluates the alleged violation, advises the employee of his or her rights and responsibilities under the CAA, and facilitates resolution of the problem. If the counseling does not resolve the employee's concerns, the Office provides neutral, trained mediators to assist the parties in resolving the dispute. The period for mediation is generally 30 days, but may be extended at the request of the parties.

Adjudication

If the dispute remains unresolved after counseling and mediation, the employee may choose either to pursue the claim through the adjudicative hearing process under the auspices of the Office, or to file suit in Federal District Court. An employee who elects the adjudicative procedures of the Office files a formal complaint with the Office. The Executive Director appoints an independent Hearing Officer to consider the case and render a written decision, which may be appealed to the Office's Board of Directors. The Board of Directors issues written decisions, which may then be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The administrative hearing process offers speedier resolution and confidentiality, while offering the same remedies as civil action.

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Accomplishments in FY 1999

Dispute Resolution Process: FY 1999 was the third full fiscal year of the Office's administration and enforcement of the CAA, including the operation of the alternative dispute resolution process. The vast majority of workplace disputes continue to be resolved by the Office of Compliance prior to litigation or adjudication. During the past fiscal year, a total of 1,098 calls for information were made to the Office directly, or to the Office's information line. In FY 1999, a total of 323 formal counseling requests were filed. Of the cases filed in FY 1998, 5 cases were pending in counseling and 9 cases were pending in mediation as of October 1, 1998. A total of 49 requests for mediation were received in FY 1999.

One complaint was pending awaiting a hearing or hearing officer decision on October 1, 1998, and 14 new complaints were filed during FY 1999. Seven hearing officer decisions were issued, and four cases were either settled or withdrawn after being assigned to a hearing officer. Two appeals to the Board of hearing officer decisions were filed during the fiscal year. Board decisions were issued in both cases.

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Labor-Management Relations Cases: In FY 1999, ten cases were filed by labor organizations. This exceeds the number of labor-management relations matters filed in any of the previous fiscal years. In seven cases, a labor organization filed a petition seeking an election to determine whether it would be certified as the exclusive representative of the requested bargaining unit. In two of the remaining three cases, the labor organization sought a review of whether certain proposals being considered in bargaining with the employing office were negotiable; that is, matters concerning terms and conditions of employment over which the employing office could not refuse to bargain. If an employing office declares a proposal non-negotiable, the labor organization may petition the Board for review, and the Board will issue a decision on the matter. In the remaining case, a labor organization filed a unit clarification petition. The purpose of such petition is to obtain a determination as to the inclusion or exclusion of certain employees in an existing bargaining unit.

In four of the election cases, a majority of voting employees favored union representation, and the Board certified the labor organization as the exclusive bargaining representative. These elections were conducted pursuant to election agreements reached with the parties, obviating the need for formal hearings to resolve disputed matters. The remaining three election cases were pending at the conclusion of FY 1999.

In one of the two negotiability cases, the petitioning union after engaging in informal settlement discussions with the employing office requested that the petition be withdrawn, which was granted by the Office. The other negotiability case was pending at the end of FY 1999.

The unit clarification petition was pending at the end of FY 1999 while the parties continued efforts informally to settle the matter.

Also during the fiscal year, the Office conducted a representation election, pursuant to an agreement with the parties, in response to a petition filed in FY 1998. The petitioning labor organization was certified as the exclusive bargaining representative, bringing the total elections conducted in FY 1999 to five.

Plans for FY 2000 and FY 2001

In FY 2000, an additional Board function will be to review arbitrators' awards after the collective bargaining agreements are in place. Either party to an arbitrator's award can file an exception to the award claiming that the award is deficient under section 220 of the CAA, and the Board will make a determination on the matter.

Additional matters that the Board must treat are similar to those which the Federal Service Impasses Panel of the FLRA handles, i.e., to resolve impasses when they occur. The Board may determine impasses in one of several ways, at their discretion, including, but not limited to the use of mediators, use of Board members as arbitrators, or holding hearings. This Office does not anticipate that additional funding will be required for these functions.

INSPECTIONS, TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND INVESTIGATIONS

Occupational Safety and Health

Periodic Inspection. The CAA requires the General Counsel of the Office of Compliance to inspect facilities in the legislative branch for compliance with safety and health standards at least once each Congress, and to report the findings to Congress. The first such mandatory inspection took place during the 105th Congress, a two-year period ending in December 1998.

Approximately 20 million square feet of space are included in the inspections, including such operations as the Capitol Power Plant, and numerous carpentry, paint finishing, and metal shops. Questionnaires survey the safety and health conditions of more than 1000 District offices throughout the country. Employing offices are informed of any deficiencies identified, so that hazards can be corrected.

Requests for Safety and Health Inspections: The CAA's safety and health provisions give covered employees the right to request inspections of potentially hazardous conditions in work areas. When a request for inspection is received, the General Counsel initiates an investigation. A copy of the request is forwarded to the employing office and the employing office is asked to provide information concerning the condition. In some cases, the employing office takes action in response to this letter which resolves the problem. If the situation is not corrected, an on-site investigation by the Office of the General Counsel assesses the situation, after which the Office of the General Counsel sends a detailed report to the employing office which describes the conditions found, reports the results of any tests performed, and explains any steps that may be needed to remedy the problem.

In the event that the employing office responsible for abating a condition that violates an OSHA standard is unable to correct the problem within a specified time, the OGC inspects and issues citations and/or notifications, as appropriate. If, after issuing a citation, the General Counsel determines that a violation has not been corrected, the General Counsel may file a complaint with the Office which is submitted to a hearing officer. To date, all citations have been abated voluntarily, without invoking complaint and hearing procedures.

Technical Assistance: Like OSHA, the OGC has the responsibility for providing compliance assistance to employing offices and covered employees. The OGC also provides consensus standards and interpretations of OSHA standards to employing offices upon request, as well as information about proposed OSHA regulations that affect their operations. In addition, the OGC assists in the development of programs to reduce occupational injuries in legislative branch agencies that have high lost-time injury and illness rates.

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