The Federal Services Impasse Panel, an independent entity within the Federal Labor Relations Authority, issued a decision on Feb. 20 upholding GSA's decision to consolidate the Federal Supply Service's stock distribution program at two depots in Burlington, N.J., and Stockton, Calif. The decision means six warehouses will close.
GSA estimates that job cuts at the closing warehouses will be distributed as follows:
- Palmetto, Ga: 108 jobs
- Fort Worth, Texas: 118 jobs
- Franconia, Va.: 31 jobs
- Chicago, Ill.: 3 jobs
- Denver, Colo.: 4 jobs
- Auburn, Wa.: 7 jobs
The decision to close some of the warehouses has been long in the making. GSA originally announced it would shut all eight warehouses in July 1999 because of a long-term sales decline in the stock program. But the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents many warehouse employees, protested the closings and eventually won an appeal to put the issue back on the bargaining table.
After the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the fate of the warehouses, the issue came before the Federal Services Impasse Panel on June 28, 2000. The panel had to decide whether to accept GSA's decision on the shutdowns or an AFGE's proposal to keep the warehouses open while streamlining business operations.
"In our view, the record created by the parties clearly establishes the merit of [GSA's] proposal to reduce the stock program's infrastructure and the costs associated therewith, over the union's proposal to delay for at least another year such painful, but necessary, organizational changes," the decision read.
AFGE representatives said the panel's decision was disappointing. The union is now considering its options, said Phil Kete, director of labor management relations at AFGE. AFGE had asked that the case be referred to a private arbitrator, but the panel refused the request. Other options include judicial review and a congressional investigation, Kete said.
"We will probably ask the Bush administration to reconsider the substantive decision on shutting down the warehouses," Kete said. "It is a business blunder by the previous administration. There's a possibility that the new administration will act with more business sense."
In the report's closing remarks, panel members admitted that they were not comfortable with making such an important decision. "The panel is not in the business of managing a multi-million-dollar, national warehouse stock distribution system…and should not reasonably be expected to possess the expertise, after a one-and-a-half-day fact-finding hearing, to make such substantive decisions without feeling some reservations," the report said.
While AFGE considers its next move, union officials will negotiate the details of the shutdown with GSA, including buyouts, early outs, priority placement programs and health care coverage. "We're going to work very hard to make sure the employees are taken care of," said an AFGE spokesman.
Programs affected by the warehouse shutdowns face a challenging future. For example, the decision will likely slow orders for products made by blind and disabled workers that are distributed through the GSA warehouses.
"This is a big deal to us, but we're working through all of our strategies," said Jim Gibbons, president of the National Industries for the Blind. "We've had 20 months to get our ducks in a row, and I think they are in a row."
Gibbons said the earlier threat of a full warehouse shutdown pushed the National Industries for the Blind to move into other distribution channels faster than they would have otherwise. The organization now sells its products on www.jwod.com and has a single award schedule with GSA (number GS-00F-0001K).
"No customer will go without an order, and we're going to keep people working," Gibbons said.