By Karen Rutzick
The National Park Service is trying to back away from an agreement to sign a negotiated labor contract, the National Treasury Employees Union charged Thursday.
NTEU, which represents 825 Park Service employees, called the agency's refusal to sign the contract "an apparent effort to deny its employees the benefits called for" in the agreement.
On June 23, Jim Gwyn, a labor relations specialist with NPS, signed a preliminary agreement with NTEU promising "to formally sign the term agreement within 10 days" of the union ratifying the agreement. More than 20 days after NTEU ratified the contract at end of July, the union said Park Service officials still have not signed it.
According to the agreement, four issues were still unresolved as of June 23: the number of core work hours, allowed start and end hours, the maximum number of hours that may be worked in a day, and the timing of union notification in the case of a reduction in force. According to the document, the two sides agreed to present those issues to the Federal Service Impasses Panel for resolution.
The agreement said that when the panel reached its conclusions, the two parties would incorporate those provisions into the contract.
David Barna, head of public affairs for the Park Service, said agency officials would not comment on the matter because they are "confidentially negotiating with the union" and "don't want to jeopardize any agreement."
Barna did confirm that agency representatives have not signed "this version" of the agreement and are instead continuing to negotiate with NTEU. He declined to say which areas of the agreement the Park Service wanted changed.
NTEU said it has filed a grievance with the Park Service over the matter.
"The time to deal with concerns is at the bargaining table," NTEU president Colleen Kelley said. "We have a negotiated contract and a signed agreement compelling NPS to move ahead with the contract. It is time for the agency to acknowledge this and step up to its legal responsibilities."
The contract includes provisions that would establish child-care subsidies for low-income workers and a student loan repayment program. It also would create a labor-management relations committee. In addition, the unsigned contract would institute a program under which, if employees saved the government money in the course of travel--by staying with a relative, for example--they would receive half the savings.
The preliminary agreement Gwyn signed called for the contract to be forwarded to Interior Secretary Gale Norton for final approval. According to Kelley, at this stage, "The agency head can only reject a provision in the contract if it is illegal."