Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pay for Snow Days - Part 2

With record snow falls in the news, it's appropriate to revisit an issue first discussed in January. The earlier post, Pay for Snow day?- Same city, same storm, different results, discussed two awards from the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration reaching different results on claims for pay for days employees were instructed to stay home because of record snowfall.

Since those two decisions, the SBMA has issued at least two other awards, involving the same town, the same storm, but different bargaining units.

In Town of Wallingford and IBEW, Local 457 a panel chaired by Arbitrator Douglas Cho sustained the Union's grievance. The award, covering two separate units represented by the Union, concluded:

Both agreements clearly set certain wages and hours and establish a normal work week as 40 hours worked Monday through Friday for Electric Division employees. Once the parties have agreed to certain hours and wages, the Town does not have the unilateral authority to decide not to pay its employees for work scheduled during the established days and hours. There is no specific or general provision allowing the Town to require employees to use vacation time in order to get paid for days the Town decides to close due to weather-related conditions.

While observing that there were not many examples of prior weather related closings which might establish a past practice, the majority noted there were no examples of prior weather related closings for which employees were not paid.

The second award, Town of Wallingford and AFSCME Co. 4, Local 1183, decided by a panel chaired by Arbitrator Nestor Diaz, reached a similar result. The majority concluded that while the circumstances were extraordinary, and the Town acted in good faith, "this does not mean that the Town has a right to deprive employees of a day's wage and instead urge them to take a vacation day to complete a week's wages."

Sustaining the grievance, the majority ordered the Town to make whole employees for lost wages or vacation time used.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reinstatement of police officer fired for dishonesty regarding personal conduct not violative of public policy

Grievant was employed as a police officer for the City of Sandusky, Ohio. He worked the night shift, which was supervised by a Sergeant who was also a personal friend. Grievant was approached by the Sergeant's fiancee who informed him that she and the Sergeant were "swingers" and that she wanted to have a sexual encounter with him. She advised the grievant that the Sergeant was aware of her request and had no objection to it. The Sergeant subsequently informed grievant that he knew of his fiancee's request and confirmed that he had no objection. Grievant turned down the offer.

Several months later the Sergeant's now wife began texting grievant. She and grievant began exchanging sexually explicit texts and photos. The Sergeant became aware of these texts and became angry that grievant had been communicating with his wife without his knowledge. He informed two higher level officers of his belief that grievant had been sleeping with his wife. The Department began an investigation and grievant described the solicitation he had received. However, on at least two occasions, he denied the existence of any explicit photos before ultimately acknowledging their existence.

The City terminated grievant's employment and the Union pursued the matter through arbitration. Arbitrator Robert Stein, while finding a basis for some discipline because of grievant's alleged insubordination, overturned the dismissal, finding it without just cause.

The City brought an action to vacate the award, contending, among other bases, that reinstatement of a police officer who had been dishonest during the investigation violated public policy. The Common Pleas court denied that request. The court initially noted that "the essence" of grievant's dishonesty involved off duty conduct and noted further that the Arbitrator had found no evidence that it had any direct negative impact on grievant's work performance.

Distinguishing other cases where the alleged dishonesty also violated criminal laws, the Court refused to vacate the award holding:

      Bearing in mind the standard of review which requires a reviewing court to make every reasonable indulgence to avoid disturbing an Arbitration Award, the Court cannot find it violates public policy to reinstate a police officer who was dishonest about something that was not job related, had no "direct negative impact on his work performance" and did not involve violation of a criminal statute.
      The Court finds that its review of an arbitration award must necessarily be very narrow. This Court cannot substitute its judgment for the judgment of the Arbitrator. The basis for vacating such an award are well established and very limited. Under the law, this Court cannot find that the Arbitrator exceeded his power or that public policy prohibits reinstatement, given the unique facts of this case. 

The Sandusky Register reports on the case here and here and links to the decision here.

(The City also terminated the employment of the Sergeant, for, among other reasons, "failure to display absolute honesty." Arbitrator Mary Jo Schiavone sustained the Sergeant's grievance and ordered his reinstatement. Arbitrator Schiavone's award can be found here.  The City did not seek to set aside that award.)

In another case, also addressing an issue of claimed dishonesty concerning off duty conduct, Arbitrator Norman Bennett rejected a claim that an Austin, TX officer had acted dishonestly in providing conflicting and contradicting statements to Internal Affairs during an investigation of his off duty actions while working security at a hotel. Arbitrator Bennett did so, however, for reasons of insufficiency of evidence without discussing whether there was a nexus to grievant's employment. The Austin Statesman reports on the case and links to the decision here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Court-Arbitrator erred in awarding back pay to Union as penalty

A court has vacated a portion of an arbitration award ordering General Mills to pay almost three weeks of back pay, calculated at the grievant's rate, to the Union as a penalty for the Company's failure to timely provide information to the Union in a termination case.

The grievant was an employee who had been dismissed for allegedly falsely reporting her time of arrival on three occasions to cover up tardiness of from one to three minutes. The issue before the Arbitrator was whether there was just cause for that dismissal, and, if not, what the appropriate remedy would be. At the hearing the Union argued, among other points, that the Company had failed to have grievant sign Attendance Review/Reports, and had failed to timely provide certain documents to it.

Arbitrator Barbara Doering concluded that while the Company had done as the Union alleged, these actions didn't change the fact that the grievant had "knowingly and with intent to deceive" entered the wrong start time on the documents. However because she found that no one before had been fired for "falsifying" their time in, and because it was not clear that the certification language on the documents sufficiently warned the employee that failure to enter the actual start time would result in termination, the arbitrator reduced the termination to reinstatement with one week of back pay. The Arbitrator also ordered that General Mills pay to the Union three weeks of back pay:

which was the amount of time from 2/6/12 [the date of the initial meeting with the grievant] to 3/5/12 [grievant's last day of work] that the Company took to consider and investigate -for the fact that [grievant's supervisor] did not have grievant sign Attendance Reviews and the fact that the Company did not provide the Union with copies of the relevant documents at the suspension meeting.

The Company did not challenge the Arbitrator's decision on the termination, but did seek to set the award of back pay to the Union.

While noting the strong presumption against overturning awards, the Court nevertheless vacated this portion of what it described as the Arbitrator's "strange" decision. It determined that this issue was not encompassed by the stipulated issue and that there was no contractual basis for the award of back pay to the Union. The Court concluded:

The arbitrator's decision to punish the company for not providing documents by awarding the Union money in an amount calculated by the amount of wages [grievant] would have earned from the date the company first met with her to discuss the issue until the date she was discharged (even though [she] had actually been paid for the days she worked during that time period) sounds to this Court like the arbitrator's own brand of industrial justice. Because the award to the Union was outside the scope of the issue the parties agreed to arbitrate and because the award does not draw its essence from the Master CBA, the Court hereby vacates the portion of the August 10, 2013 arbitration decision that awarded money to the Union

The Court's decision in General Mills, Inc. v. BCTGM Local 316G can be found here.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Unsuccessful effort to set aside arbitrator's award not a basis for an award of attorneys' fees

SEIU Local 24/7 prevailed in an arbitration claiming that Pacific Gas and Electric had improperly denied security officers compensation for meal periods when they were subject to being on call or were required to respond to emergencies. PG&E sought, unsuccessfully, to set aside the arbitrator's award on the basis that the Arbitrator had ignored relevant contract language. The Union then sought an award of its attorneys' fees in the amount of $146,582.

The District Court, in a decision here, rejected the Union's request for an award of attorneys' fees. The court found no evidence that the Company's position was frivolous or undertaken in bad faith.

The Union appealed, and the Ninth Circuit has now affirmed. The Circuit Court noted:

Attorneys' fees are appropriate as a sanction when a party engages in bad faith or engages in conduct tantamount to bad faith. ... A refusal to obey an arbitral order may constitute bad faith conduct. ... However, a challenge to an arbitral order on the grounds that an arbitrator did not apply or misinterpreted the underlying contract does not necessarily constitute bad faith.

The Court's opinion is available here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Arbitrator overturns suspension of police officer disciplined for alleged use of excessive force

Arbitrator Michael Cavanaugh, chair of a unanimous three person panel, has sustained a grievance filed on behalf of a Seattle police officer challenging his eight day suspension for claimed use of excessive force.

The incident in question arose during an investigation of an individual believed to have been involved in a hit and run. Grievant was one of two officers who initially stopped the suspect. These two officers were then joined by a third. While inspecting the suspect's vehicle grievant observed what he believed to be a failure of the suspect to comply with the requests of the other officers. Grievant approached the suspect and using a "command voice" (a tactic he had been trained to use) ordered the suspect to "shut your mouth and just sit there." A struggle ensued as the officers attempted to handcuff the suspect, and in the course of the struggle the suspect spit on the officers. Grievant struck the suspect with his forearm and, after the suspect was on the ground, struck him with a closed fist.

A review of grievant's conduct was conducted, and a Sergeant, and acting Lieutenant and a Captain concluded that greivant's actions were reasonable and within policy. The Captain however referred the matter to the Office of Professional Accountability for a "complete and thorough review."

The OPA found grievant's use of force unjustified and unnecessary. It found that he had unnecessarily escalated the situation by injecting himself in an aggressive manner and that his use of force was "premature".

Consistent with the recommendations of the OPA, the Chief suspended grievant for a period of eight days. The Seattle Police Officers' Guild grieved and ultimately arbitrated this discipline.

Initially Arbitrator Cavanaugh addressed the nature of the dispute:

Allegations of excessive force by police officers require consideration of several significant - and often conflicting - public policy and political considerations, each of which is critically important in its own right, e.g. public safety, officer safety, the rights of individual members of the public, and the health of relationships between the SPD and the communities it serves - not to mention the City's compliance with a settlement agreement with the United Sates Department of Justice resulting from claims the SPD has too often used excessive force. 

The Arbitrator noted that just cause for the discipline could be established:

only if facts sufficient sufficient to support the discipline have been established by a preponderance of the evidence in the record, and even then, only if the process used by the City comports with accepted notions of due process and with concepts of equal treatment when considered in light of the discipline imposed on other officers for similar established offenses.

Applying these standards, Arbitrator Cavanaugh concluded that the City had failed to meet its burden. He determined that what the OPA had deemed to be improper escalation was a legitimate, if unsuccessful, attempt to obtain the suspects compliance without the use of force. He also noted that while what the Chief had described as tactical errors had been made, these errors were equally the responsibility of the other officers on the scene and there was no evidence that they had been disciplined. Finally, he concluded that the evidence failed to establish that the blows delivered by grievant were excessive. With regard to the first, he found an absence of evidence that any reasonably available lesser level of force would have been effective in ending the suspect's assault (i.e. the spitting), and with regard to the second, he found that the City had failed to effectively counter grievant's testimony that the suspect was continuing to resist while he was on the ground.

Finding a lack of just cause for the discipline, the Arbitrator ordered the City to remove the suspension from grievant's record and make him whole for lost wages.

The Seattle Times reports on the award Panel overturns suspension of SPD officer in use-of-force case and links to the award of Arbitrator Cavanaugh here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alcohol fueled misconduct found just cause for termination despite rehab

Arbitrator Joseph Duffy has upheld the termination of an Able Bodied Seaman in a dispute between the State of Washington and the Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific.

Grievant was employed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division. On April 5, 2013, while he was off duty, grievant drove his personal vehicle on board a ferry operated by the employer. While on board, grievant engaged in conversation with two other employees. According to these employees grievant was intoxicated and made offensive and racially charged comments to both, as well as comments about a passenger. The grievant was also alleged to have engaged in inappropriate physical contact with a female coworker. The coworker testified that grievant thrust his hands between her vest and her shirt, rubbed against her from behind, and placed his face against the back of her neck. During the employer's investigation of this incident grievant claimed he had no recollection of the events in issue, saying he was in an alcoholic blackout at the time. The employer terminated grievant's employment, and the dispute was ultimately submitted to arbitration. At the hearing the Union argued that while grievant's conduct warranted discipline, termination was too severe, and the discipline should be mitigated because of grievant's length of service and his successful participation in an alcohol treatment program.

Initially, Arbitrator Duffy noted that while grievant had been off duty at the time of the incidents, there was a clear connection between the events and grievant's employment, noting that they took place on board a ferry operated by the employer and involved coworkers and, potentially, a passenger. He then considered, and rejected, the Union's mitigation and disparate treatment arguments, observing:
     As witnesses at this hearing testified, many people successfully recover from alcoholism, remain sober and lead productive lives thereafter. ... The process of recovery often has a transformative effect on the individual that extends beyond simply stopping drinking. The Grievant described the positive, transformative effect that recovery has had in his life. ... Clearly, the Grievant's conduct in obtaining treatment and continuing in follow up programs is commendable.
     Had this been a case of intoxication in the workplace without the other elements, the outcome would very likely be different. Intoxication, however, does not provide an excuse for serious misconduct of the type engaged in by the Grievant. The mitigating factors of length of service, the lack of prior discipline for similar conduct and the Grievant's commitment to alcoholism treatment are outweighed by the Employer's interest in protecting the integrity and credibility of its equal employment policies and rules. 

As a result, he rejected the Union's grievance.

Arbitrator Duffy's Award can be found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

State must adhere to cba despite lack of appropriated funds

The Illinois Appellate Court has upheld an award of Arbitrator Edwin Benn finding the state's refusal to implement a scheduled wage increase to be contrary to the cba. State v. AFSCME Council 31

The cba, as modified by subsequent Cost Sharing Agreements (CSAs), called for the implementation of a 2% wage increase on July 1, 2011. However, citing adverse economic conditions and the absence of sufficient appropriated funds from the General Assembly, the State refused to implement the increase. While the Governor's proposed budget fully funded all collective bargaining agreements, the budget passed by the  General Assembly did not include funds for certain contractual increases.

The Union grieved the refusal to implement the increase, and Arbitrator Benn sustained the grievance, ordering the State to immediately pay the increase (and future increases) and to make whole affected employees. In doing so the Arbitrator rejected the State's argument that he should interpret and apply provisions of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the State Constitution which, it contended, effectively prohibited the State from implementing the increase in the absence of appropriated funds. Noting that his authority was limited to interpreting the parties' contract, the Arbitrator declined to engage in an analysis of the statutory or constitutional limitations. Those issues, he concluded, were more appropriately decided by the courts.

The State sought to set aside the award as contrary to public policy, but the trial court substantially declined. The Appellate Court has now affirmed that decision.

The Court noted that the State's Constitution proscribed laws impairing the obligations of contracts, and that the IPLRA expressly authorized the State to enter into multi-year agreements. The Court concluded that the State's position would render multi-year agreement unenforceable. The Court summarized its holding:

Like the State of Iowa in Iowa Council 61, the State of Illinois here argues that if the General Assembly chooses to appropriate all its funds to specific purposes other than the payments of amounts the State's agents agreed to pay state employees, then the State owes its employees nothing. Such an interpretation of the CBA and the CSAs, as documents that commit the State to nothing, cannot stand. The State's interpretation of the General Assembly's appropriation power would allow the General Assembly in every appropriation bill to impair the State's obligations under its contracts. We adopt the reasoning of the Iowa Supreme Court in Iowa Council 61. The State, through its authorized agents, may commit the State to pay parties who enter into contracts with the State, even before the General Assembly has appropriated funds for the contract. Iowa Council 61, 484 N.W.2d at 394; see also Association of Surrogates & Supreme Court Reporters v. State of New York, 940 F.2d 766, 771 (2d Cir. 1991). If the State seeks to make the contract contingent on appropriation, it must make that contingency explicit in the contract. See Carlstrom v. State, 694 P.2d 1, 4 (Wash. 1985).