Monday, August 20, 2012

Layoff Protection does not follow employee who transfers to different bargaining unit

Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg has issued an award in a dispute between the U.S. Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union. The dispute involved the question of whether an employee who was represented by the APWU but who transferred to a bargaining unit covered by a different union continued to be covered by the Layoff Protection MOU of the APWU Agreement. After disposing of some procedural objections to the arbitrability of the dispute, Arbitrator Goldberg concluded that coverage did not transfer with the employee.
The MOU in issue provided protection from layoff for the duration of the cba for certain employees not covered by a more extensive contractual protection against layoff. The APWU asserted that an employee covered by the MOU who transferred to a different bargaining unit continued to be covered by the Layoff Protection MOU. In rejecting this position the Arbitrator observed:
It is a fundamental principle of American labor law, too well-accepted to require citation,
that a union which has been certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees in
a particular bargaining unit bargains on behalf of those employees only, and is without authority
to enter into agreements on behalf of employees in other bargaining units whom it does not
It is equally clear that, as a general rule, benefits that have been negotiated by a union on
behalf of employees in a bargaining unit represented by that union apply to those employees only
as long as they remain in that bargaining unit. An employee who leaves one bargaining unit to
join another does not generally carry with him/her contractual rights that were negotiated on
his/her behalf in the former unit, but is rather covered by the contract in the unit which he/she
joins, and is entitled to only the benefits contained in the latter contract.
Arbitrator Goldberg noted that while an employer and union could agree to rights that would continue in effect after the employee left the bargaining unit, such an agreement would create practical problems making enforcement difficult or impossible if the employee transferred to a different bargaining unit. In such a situation an employer could be faced with the dilemma of either violating the transferring employee’s rights under the original contract or being forced to engage in unproductive conduct in order to comply with its commitments under both contracts. Because of this, the Arbitrator would require “clear supporting evidence” of such an agreement
In this case, the Arbitrator concluded that the APWU’s position “would present such practical problems of contract administration and personnel management for USPS that it should not be adopted in the absence of persuasive evidence that USPS and APWU intended its application in those circumstances. Such evidence was found to be lacking.”

Accordingly he denied the grievance.

APWU links to the Award here.

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