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Union wins back two city jobs

February 15, 2012

PAWTUCKET — The city employees' largest union, Council 94, AFSCME Local 1012 has won two jobs back through arbitration that had been lost last year through lay-offs. However, a broader attempt to have the city rescind 18 lay-offs and provide back pay and benefits to the affected employees was not supported by the arbitrator.
In a decision that was rendered on Monday, arbitrator Mark L. Irving wrote that the City of Pawtucket did not violate the collective bargaining agreement in the manner in which it initially conducted layoffs on May 20, 2011. However, Irving added, it did violate the contract when it hired non-bargaining unit employees to perform the duties of the switchboard operator and a custodian.
Augie Venice, president of AFSCME Local 1012, said he was pleased to have gotten two full-time jobs back through the arbitration even though the union had sought to save three. He said that while he didn't agree with some of the points made by the arbitrator, Irving, he considered it to be a “well reasoned, well-documented decision.”
In his arbitration award, Irving stated that the city shall discontinue the use of non-bargaining unit employees to perform bargaining unit work and said that the job of switchboard operator and one custodian position must be reinstated. He also wrote that both parties should seek to calculate the amount of back pay owed and to whom regarding both positions.
According to arbitration documents, the woman who had been the switchboard operator chose to retire upon her lay-off rather than “bump” another employee, and the city initially tried using an automated phone system.
When this was found to be unsatisfactory, the city hired a temporary non-bargaining unit person in the Personnel office who received and transferred calls and who was paid at a lesser rate than what was in the collective bargaining agreement for the switchboard operator.
Additionally, the custodian position at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center was eliminated and custodians from other buildings were sent to the building for part of their shift. However, the city later hired a temporary employee who was not a member of the bargaining unit to clean in the Senior Center for three to four hours a day.
It was noted that the city had also hired temporary employees in the Parks Department. However, the union filed a grievance because Parks employees were on lay-off and the grievance was granted.
Faced with having to save $5 million on the city side of the budget, on May 20, 2011, ten police positions and 15 firefighters positions were eliminated. In the bargaining unit represented by Local 1012, AFSCMA, 18 positions were eliminated, including six in the Library, a clerk in Collections, the switchboard operator, a custodian in City Hall Maintenance, an equipment operator in Refuse, a laborer in Street Cleaning, a lane painter in Traffic, a park and property control officer in Parks, a fire prevention II clerk in Fire, a mechanic in Equipment Maintenance, two attendants at Daggett Farm, and a maintenance mechanic in Building Maintenance.
Most of the employees in the eliminated positions exercised their “bumping rights” and obtained a position of a less senior employee. A few employees in eliminated positions, such as the switchboard operator, retired or took the lay-off instead of exercising bumping rights.
On May 25, 2011, the union filed a grievance as a class action in which it contended that the layoffs had not been done by strict seniority in violation of an article in its contract and other provisions. The requested remedy was “making all affected employees 'whole', including reinstatement and back-pay for those who were bumped as a result of the lay-offs.”
Around the same time, the union field grievances that individually challenged the lay-offs of the building custodian, switchboard operator, a Park and Property control officer and a Fire Prevention clerk. After a hearing on June 23, 2011, all of these grievances were denied and the union submitted them to arbitration.
A hearing was held on Nov. 22, 2011 and post-hearing briefs were received from the parties on Jan. 23, 2012, prior to this week's decision.
The biggest grievance issue, concerning the union's challenge to the 18 lay-offs of employees in Local 1012., could have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in back pay as well as causing disruption once again to municipal departments had the city lost. However, a key point in the arbitrator's decision found that the union's essential argument that its contract compelled the city to lay off the 18 most junior employees, without regard to what positions they occupied, was not supported by the article that was cited. The collective bargaining agreement for Local 1012 was effective July 1, 2009 and runs to June 30, 2012.

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