December 23, 2010

Requests for union leave

Requests for union leave
Matter of the Erie County Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association, 33 PERB 4570

Provisions for union leave are included in many Taylor Law agreements.

Here the collective bargaining agreement between the Erie County Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association [SPBA] and the Erie County Sheriff’s Department [department] included a provision allowing specified SPBA members to be absent on union leave. The contract also set out the total number of union leave days available and the procedure to be followed in requesting approval for such leave.

SPBA filed an improper practice charge with PERB in which it alleged that the department had violated Civil Service Law Sections 209-a.1(b) [prohibiting employer attempts to dominate or interfere with the ... administration of any employee organization] and 209-a.1(d) [barring employers from refusing to negotiate in good faith] when it unilaterally decided to require unit members to include an explanation for their absence when requesting union leave.

SPBA also claimed that if the department disapproved of the explanation given by the member, it withheld its approval of the request for the leave. According to SPBA, this was a contract violation in as much as the agreement also provided that requests for union leave shall not be unreasonably withheld.

PERB’s administrative law judge Monte Klein dismissed the charge. Klein said that PERB did not have any jurisdiction to consider such a complaint in view of the fact that the union leave provision was a contract benefit.

Where, said Klein, a right or benefit emanates from the collective bargaining agreement, and the agreement provides a reasonably arguable source of right with respect to the subject matter, a charge alleging improper unilateral action with respect to such a right or benefit is beyond PERB’s jurisdiction. Kline decided that there appeared to be an alternative procedure available to SPBA to resolve its complaint under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

In other words, SPBA’s allegations might constitute a breach of the collective bargaining agreement.

Although Klein did not suggest that any specific procedure available to the SPBA to challenge the department’s action, his language suggests that the SPBA could file a contract grievance concerning its allegations. Thus, if SPBA’s allegations constitute a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, it might allow it to ultimately demand arbitration as to whether the department violated the agreement by:

1. Requiring explanations in connection with requests for union leave; or

2. Unreasonably withholding its approval of requests for union leave by eligible SPBA unit members.

In a similar type of situation, Matter of Suffolk Detectives Association, 33 PERB 4573, the Association initially filed an improper practice charge with PERB alleging that Suffolk County had violated Civil Service Law Sections 209-a.1(a) [the employer has interfered with, coerced or restrained public employees from exercising their rights under the Taylor Law] and 209-a.1(e) [employer to continue all of the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement until a new agreement is negotiated].

The basis for the Association’s charge: Suffolk issued a memorandum changing the terms under which unit members would receive payment when recalled to duty. PERB administrative law judge Philip L. Maier conditionally dismissed the charge after the parties advised him that they had submitted the matter to binding arbitration.

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