Arbitration award in annual-leave grievance
On July 2, USF and UFF received the arbitrator’s decision in the grievances filed over the University’s taking three days of leave last December from all annual-leave-accruing employees. Here is the heart of the decision:
The University, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, cannot require bargaining unit employees to use annual leave. The University, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, does not have the contractual right or the statutory right to require bargaining unit employees to take accrued annual leave. The required use of annual leave resulted in the employees being required to waive benefits provided by the Agreement, and to suffer a loss or diminution of contractual rights for which they were otherwise eligible. Specifically, the employeeâ€™s contractual rights and benefits to accrue the days for their use in accordance with the provisions of the contract…. After full consideration of the circumstances, this arbitrator agrees that the remedy must be for the University to reinstate the three days of accrued annual leave to the members of the bargaining unit who were required to take them.
The arbitrator has ordered the university to return three days of leave to all in the UFF bargaining unit who lost them in December. This is the result of the grievance process at its final step: a binding arbitration, and in this case, the arbitrator ruled that the United Faculty of Florida was correct in its interpretation of the contract, that the university did not have the authority to take three days of leave without bargaining a change at the table. Members’ dues pay for contract enforcement, and it is in the grievance process that UFF can hold the university accountable when it violates the contract.
Chapter grievance chair Mark Klisch processed the grievances at the local level; UFF’s executive director, Ed Mitchell, was the chapter’s representative at the arbitration hearing, and chief negotiator Robert Welker helped with preparation for the arbitration hearing.
One UFF member asked several questions July 3 about the relationship between annual leaves and the university’s budget picture. Below are the questions and the answers from the chapter president.
Q. Considering the current budgetary diffulties of the University, do you not think that the University requiring the use of the three days vacation might have been a prudent way of avoiding laying some staff off?
A. Taking three days of annual leave from in-unit employees gave the university relatively little in terms of cash. Forward leave obligations are liabilities on the balance sheet, but that’s not necessarily what’s crucial to the university’s finances. The university raised the cost issue at the arbitration hearing, but I am told that when asked directly about what USF saved, the university’s witness could not provide a firm figure about the cash savings.
Q. If the University, upon being forced to give back the vacation days, decides later that it has no choice but to lay some staff and faculty off due to budgetary constraints, do you not think it will will be in its right to do so?
A. The university always has the right to lay off employees if done legally. They can do that with or without justification, though law and collective bargaining agreements restrict what they can do, and right now USF has a substantial incentive NOT to lay off faculty, at least for the next year. In reality, our future depends on stability of state appropriations for a few years, not the annual leave days taken from employees.
Q. What efforts were made by UFF to ensure that at the end of the day, decisions made do not jeopardize the long-term job security of USF employees rather than strict interpretation of the contractual agreements?
A. It is partly through contract enforcement that we do not have faculty layoffs. Not everything, by any means — the e-mail I sent chapter members a few weeks ago explains the bigger picture that I see — but I don’t see a contradiction between contract enforcement and defending the jobs of colleagues who work hard. The administration never came to UFF to open up the issue of accrued leaves as part of bargaining, and if the annual leaves were that critical, they would have bargained it and would not have offered raises in late November, after it was clear that we were headed to arbitration on the grievance.