December 07, 2010

Modifying employee work schedules

Modifying employee work schedules
Maineri v Syosset CSD, 276 AD2d 793

Contract grievances involving changing an individual’s work schedule generally are resolved by interpreting the language set out in the collective bargaining agreement. Of equal importance in such situations is whether the contract is silent or sets out exclusions with respect to such changes as the Maineri case demonstrates.

David Maineri sued the Syosset Central School District after the district denied his grievance challenging a change in his working hours. A State Supreme Court justice dismissed his petition and Maineri appealed.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court said that dispute, which centered on Maineri’s working hours, was covered by the terms and conditions of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement and, therefore there is no further statutory duty to bargain collectively with respect to the matter.

On the merits, the court ruled that “the district did not violate the parties’ collective bargaining agreement by altering [Maineri’s] working hours since the agreement did not establish the his right and entitlement to specific hours of work.” In the words of the court, “in the absence of such entitlement there can be no violation of the contract by the alteration of those hours.”

In addition, the court said that “the school district, as a municipal entity, may not be estopped from changing the [Maineri’s] working hours to correct errors in those hours, since the challenged alteration concerns the performance of a governmental function.”

In another change of work schedule case, In the Arbitration between Sullivan County and Teamsters Local 445, 276 AD2d 861, Appellate Division, Third Department, [Motion for leave to appeal denied, 96 NY2d 703 ], the court overturned an arbitrator’s ruling that Sullivan County had violated the collective bargaining agreement when it unilaterally changed the work schedule of certain employees.

The individuals involved worked 35 hours per week as aides for the County’s Division of Health and Family Services. Their work schedule: Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.

In response to a decline in the demand for home health aide services, the County changed all full-time aide positions to part-time positions. The aides filed a contract grievance and the arbitrator ruled that the change from full-time to part-time constituted a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator ordered the County to restore the aides to full-time status [i.e., 35-hours per week] with back pay.

A State Supreme Court judge vacated the award on the grounds that the arbitrator had misread the Taylor Law agreement. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

First the Appellate Division noted that judicial review of an arbitration decision is limited and such a decision will not be disturbed unless it is violative of a strong public policy, is totally irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator’s power, citing Matter of the Town of Callicoon, 70 NY2d 907. Here, however, the court concluded that the arbitrator erroneously applied Section 408 of the agreement to the aides’ positions and, therefore, his decision was irrational.

The agreement did, in fact, set out the workday, workweek and overtime for certain workers. The decision notes that Section 401 of the agreement defined the normal work week and indicates that [e]xcept as hereinafter provided, the work week of all employees shall be five (5) days, Monday through Friday, seven (7) hours per day, thirty-five (35) hours per week [and] [t]he hours of employment shall be 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

The agreement also sets a 40-hour work week for certain of workers, and further provides that [n]otwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Article, employees who work a five (5) day, forty (40) hour week, excluding time off for lunch, Monday through Friday, shall continue [Section 408 of the agreement].

The court said that the aides worked a 35-hour workweek prior to the reduction of their hours. It agreed with the Supreme Court’s conclusion that Section 408 relates only to employees who work 40 hours per week and cannot reasonably be interpreted as applicable to the aides’ positions.

Since there was not other provision in the agreement preventing the County from unilaterally reducing the hours of the aides due to business necessity, the Appellate Division concluded that the arbitrator’s award was properly vacated.

The Appellate Division also commented that:

"Indeed, Section 2502(d) [of the contract] expressly vests [the county] with the authority [t]o relieve employees from duties because of lack of work or other legitimate reason. Taking the above into consideration and applying Section 2103 of the agreement that specifically prohibits modification of its provisions by arbitration, we conclude that Supreme Court properly vacated the award."
NYPPL

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