City Applied Personnel Rules that Conflicted with Contract Provisions
Lucas Lamos had always been a union member, but he’d never really dealt much with the union. When his wife suffered a serious injury, though, he was glad he had the full support of SEA/SEIU Local 1984.
Lamos recently won an arbitration decision against his employer, the City of Laconia, dealing with a contract violation over family leave. The case began when Lamos’ wife suffered a fall and broke two bones in her leg, requiring surgery and a hospital stay. SEA field representative, Neil Smith, argued the case.
“I had to take some time off until I could get people lined up to help her,” he said.
Based on his unit’s contract with the city, Lamos should have been able to use sick leave to care for his wife. Although he was allowed to take three days of sick leave (which he spent with her in the hospital), all further requests were denied, and he was forced to use either vacation or personal leave instead. The city was applying its personnel rules, which limit use of sick leave to care for a family member to three consecutive days per event. Having leave denied isn’t exactly what you want to hear in the midst of a family crisis, and Lamos said he put the issue aside for the moment.
“I dealt with what I needed to deal with, and when I got back to work, I started looking into it,” he said.
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 filed a grievance and the case eventually landed before an arbitrator. While the city claimed that applying its personnel rules regarding leave did not conflict with the contract, the arbitrator, Gary Altman, disagreed. In his decision, Altman wrote that in any arbitration, the objective is to ascertain the intent of the parties. In an earlier contract negotiation, the parties had agreed to some limitations in the family sick leave provision, which means that further limitations were never intended.
“Adding a condition that an employee can only use three consecutive days for family sick leave per incident adds a significant restriction that was never agreed to by the parties,” Altman wrote.
Further, Altman drew the distinction between the city’s policy and the policy set forth in the contract the union negotiated with the city.
“It is inappropriate to apply provisions of the personnel rules when it limits benefits that are set forth in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement,” he wrote.
Altman ordered that Lamos’ leave record be adjusted so that all of the leave he took to care for his wife would be subtracted from his sick leave balance and his vacation and sick leave balances would be appropriately credited.
“Neil Smith did a really great job, I was impressed,” he said. “Everybody backed me up.”
“It was bad in the beginning, but the union really pulled through for me and everything turned out well,” he said. “It took a year, but I got my leave back.”