PELRB Says Workers Will Have Their Day In Court, After All

In the summer of 2012, more than 1,000 workers in the Executive Branch saw their paychecks change.  With the ease of writing a memo, the Manager of Employee Relations, Matt Newland, notified state agencies and the SEA that the State was going to change how they were compensating employees for overtime work done on certain shifts, and completely eliminated shift compensation for a group of law enforcement supervisors within the State’s prisons.  The change prompted the SEA to file grievances and to seek arbitration over the issue as the change violated the collective bargaining agreement.  The SEA also filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge due to the fact that wages are a mandatory subject of bargaining and changes to them should have been negotiated, in addition to the fact that the contract should have been followed.

In January of this year, the Attorney General’s office, in its effort to represent the State in this case, agreed that it would follow the contractual resolution process and as such, the SEA agreed to temporarily “stay” the ULP it had filed.  After several months, the arbitration was eventually scheduled for September 4th.  But what happened on that day stunned SEA staff and struck a devastating blow to these workers that had waited so long for their issue to be resolved.  Instead of keeping their January promise, the AG’s office blocked the resolution process by not attending the arbitration at all!

“It was really heart wrenching to see the shock on the members’ faces.  They had been waiting for months.  They had been telling their kids that things would get better soon because they thought they were nearing the end of this fight to get back what had been taken from them,” said SEA President, Diana Lacey, who then authorized a second ULP charge to be filed.

Yesterday, that second ULP charge resulted in an important order.  “Both parties are ordered to proceed with scheduling and conducting binding arbitration on the shift differential dispute.  The merits of the issue and remedy are included in this order.  The arbitrator previously selected will be used.  And the arbitration should take place sometime in December or January,” said Lacey.

The SEA will proceed as planned, with witnesses and documentation, to support its claims that these workers’ wages were changed in violation of the contract.  “I know these workers are hurting and the AG’s pattern of delaying resolution of these kinds of matters – contract violations – cannot be tolerated,” said Lacey.  “People are waiting far too long for justice to come.  It is disgraceful that workers are treated this way.  If they were private sector workers and employers weren’t paying them what they were owed, state officials would be on the evening news promising to help those workers be made whole.  Just because you are a public worker, doesn’t mean you can be treated like a second class citizen.  I hope this order marks the end of the AG’s delays.”

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