Panel upholds GSA decision to shut down six warehouses

A federal panel has upheld a General Services Administration plan to shut down six Federal Supply Service warehouses, GSA officials said Friday. Last March, GSA announced that two distribution centers and four supply depots would be closed by April 2001, but the agency has been bargaining over how the shutdown will be implemented with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many GSA warehouse employees. The issue wound up before the Federal Service Impasse Panel, an independent entity within the Federal Labor Relations Authority that takes over when labor-management bargaining efforts have broken down. The panel issued a decision Friday in support of GSA's warehouse shutdown. As a result, positions in Fort Worth, Texas; Palmetto, Ga.; Franconia, Va.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; and Auburn, Wash.; will be eliminated. Actual warehouse closures will not occur before Oct. 1, GSA said. "We realize this decision will be painful for many of our employees and their families. Our objective is to give early notice to affected employees and explain their options so each person can make the best decisions for themselves," said Donna Bennett, commissioner of GSA's Federal Supply Service. GSA officials did not state the total number of jobs that will be lost as a result of the shutdowns. As of last March, GSA estimated that about 300 jobs would be eliminated, but those numbers may have changed. GSA and AFGE have been debating about how to solve financial problems in the agency's warehouse system for nearly two years. Former GSA director David Barram made an initial decision to close all eight of the Federal Supply Service warehouses in July 1999. Since then, the controversial plan has been through several revisions. The final plan approved by the panel will keep two warehouses open, one in Burlington, N.J. and another in Stockton, Calif. One major controversy involved individuals with disabilities whose jobs would be affected by the warehouse closings. GSA stocks products made by the disabled workers in the warehouses for sale to other federal agencies. According to GSA, keeping two supply warehouses open will "provide a continuous distribution system for individuals with disabilities." Employees affected by the shutdowns will be offered buyouts and early outs, but details on those plans have not yet been released. The Federal Supply Service's Office of Supply will coordinate the shutdowns.