Sunday, July 2, 2017

Does administrative time off to vote apply to participation in caucuses?

That was the issue before Arbitrator Shyman Das in a case involving the US Postal Service and its three major unions.

The USPS Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) provides:

519.321 Policy

...postal employees  ... who desire to vote or register in any election or in any referendum on a civic matter in their community are excused for a reasonable time for that purpose on a day they are scheduled for work.

The issue before Arbitrator Das was whether this provision applied to local party caucuses during which registered voters express their preference for a candidate to receive their party's nomination for President of the United States.  The particular dispute arose in connection with a Democratic caucus held in Nevada during the 2016 campaign. The Postal Service denied the request of an employee for paid time off to participate.

At the arbitration, USPS asserted that caucuses differ significantly from state level elections run by state governments. A caucus, they argued, was unlike a traditional election in that it required a participant to stay for the duration of the cause and could involve multiple rounds of voting. It also claimed that it had a consistent policy of not granting administrative leave for caucuses.

Rejecting the position of the Postal Service, Arbitrator Das concluded that the language was broad enough to encompass party caucuses. He noted:

The issue in this case is whether the policy expressed in 519.321 and the provision for paid leave therein extends to participation in local party caucuses in which registered voters express their preference for a candidate to receive the party's nomination for President of the United States. The results of such caucuses play a direct role in the selection of delegates who ultimately determine the party's nominee. Participation in such caucuses constitutes "voting" in an "election" and equates to voting in a primary secret ballot election in terms of an employee's "exercise [of] their voting rights." From the standpoint of the policy expressed in 519.321 there is no meaningful basis for distinguishing between voting in a Presidential nomination caucus and in a Presidential primary election for which administrative leave is granted in accordance with the provisions of 519.32.
[footnote omitted]

Arbitrator Das also rejected the Service's assertion of a consistent practice of denying administrative leave for caucuses. He noted that two letters from headquarters to the field articulated that position, but one related to the dispute that was the subject of the grievance, and a second was issued prior to the 2012 election when the Democrats did not hold caucuses. He also noted that in the 2008 election two grievances protesting the denial of administrative leave for caucus were settled on a non-citable basis. The Unions also pointed to two prior regional awards supporting their position which, while not binding, arguably provided guidance for this dispute. In light of all of this, Arbitrator Das concluded that the record was insufficient to support the existence of "any sort of practice or of a consistent policy  known to and acquiesced in by the Unions."

Arbitrator Das' award can be found here.

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