Monday, September 10, 2012

Past practice supports Police Department, grievance denied

The City of Red Wing and Teamsters Local 320 are parties to an agreement covering a unit of peace officers. That contract provides that "All callbacks on an officer's off-duty time shall be compensated at the overtime rate of time and one-half ...with a minimum of two (2) hours." On December 3, 2011 three officers were summoned to report prior to the start of their scheduled shift. The officers worked for less than two hours before the start of their scheduled shift and were paid overtime for only the hours actually worked. The union file a grievance, claiming they were eligible for the two hour minimum provided for in the contract. The Department denied the grievance, asserting that overtime contiguous with an employee's regular shift was a shift extension, not a "call back." The parties were unable to resolve the dispute and it was ultimately submitted to arbitration before Arbitrator Stephen Befort.
The Union maintained that the  language of the contract was clear and unambiguous and supported the officer's eligibility for the two hour minimum regardless of whether the unscheduled time was contiguous with a regularly scheduled shift. According to the Union, it would be inappropriate to consider evidence of past practice in light of the clear language of the contract. In contract, the City argued that the language was ambiguous and the past practice supported its interpretation of the contract.
Noting that the contract contained no definition of a "callback", Arbitrator Befort found the language ambiguous. Turning to the City's past practice evidence the Arbitrator found "a virtually unbroken record" of employees not receiving call back pay for shift extensions. Denying the grievance the Arbitrator concluded:

In the end, the Employer has produced evidence establishing a viable past practice claim. The Employer has shown that it has consistently limited call-back pay to situations that did not involve a contiguous shift extension. This practice is longstanding in that it has continued for at least the past 30 years. The practice also has been mutually acceptable since the testimony shows that Union representatives knew of the practice and did not object. Given this clear past practice, the Employer’s continuation of that practice so as to deny callback pay to the grievants is reasonable and does not offend the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.

The full text of Arbitrator Beldon's award can be found here.

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