After nine years of ‘on-call’ grind, member receives $40k settlement
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Most workers look forward to going home at the end of their workday or shift, letting go of the stress and responsibilities of the day and relaxing. Fortunately, most workers can do that. But not all.
Some workers must remain connected to their workplace and their duties there. They are “on call” and must be prepared to quickly respond digitally or in person if issues arise at their worksite.
While it is nice to feel you are needed, being permanently and continuously obligated to that need without a regular guaranteed respite is stressful, restrictive and draining on every level: mental, emotional, physical and social. Your life is never quite your own.
That is why PEF negotiated Article 31 of the PS&T Contract that lays out some rules for compensating members in salary grades 22 and lower who are routinely “on call” when they are also supposed to be off work. Under Article 31, these employees “shall be listed on standby on-call assignment rosters.” And they shall be paid “an amount equal to 25 percent of the daily rate of compensation … for each eight hours or part thereof that (they) are actually scheduled to remain, and do remain, available for recall.”
One member, who was in a grade 21 position, worked for more than nine years as a plant utilities engineer for a state agency and was frequently on call. While he sometimes received overtime pay for work performed while on call, he had not received the standby/on call pay for the numerous shifts in which he was required to be on call.
In 2016, the member filed a contract grievance with the help of his local PEF steward and his PEF field representative. The grievance was denied at Step 1 (worksite level) and Step 2 (agency level), but neither the member, nor PEF gave up. They filed an appeal to Step 3 (the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations) and the case was sent to an arbitrator who was scheduled to hear the case June 10 of this year.
PEF met that day with GOER and the arbitrator and worked out a settlement agreement. The member received a settlement of $40,000 to cover the period of August 14, 2016, through September 11, 2018, when he left state service.
While it was a significant amount and could only be retroactive to 30 days prior to the filing of the initial grievance September 14, 2016, the member said he felt that it can never fully compensate him for the inconvenience and domination of his personal time and family life that went with being perpetually “on call.”
For instance, when he had to come in and work straight through from Friday to 7 a.m. Monday to restore power after a transformer failed, his employer refused to pay him for the time on Monday morning because “it was not preapproved.” He said, “I asked how I was supposed to get preapproval when all of the email and communications systems were down, but I never got paid for that time I worked after Sunday night.”
The member said he finally resigned to take a less stressful, but lower paying job outside state service.
“I know I’ll never get all of my time, my health or my money back from there,” the member said, “but I also know what you guys at the union are up against and I thank you.”
The member said he is particularly grateful to PEF associate counsel Eric Kwasniewski who represented him in preparing the third step grievance and in negotiating the settlement.
Kwasniewski also drew the praise of Debra Greenberg, acting director of PEF’s Department of Contract Administration, who commended him “for his tremendous effort, professionalism and successful outcome in this matter.”
PEF President Wayne Spence said he is glad the union stood staunchly by this member to enforce his contractual rights and achieve the best possible resolution of his issue.
“We know this is an issue for other PEF members at a variety of grade levels and working at several state agencies,” Spence said. “Not only do we want to enforce our contractual benefit, we are always looking to expand it.”
All members should take the time to read their contract, Spence said, and if they feel their rights are being violated, they should document every instance and talk to their PEF steward about filing a grievance.
“I see this significant settlement as a victory for this member and for all members,” Spence said, “because it sends the message to state agencies that we will not stop enforcing our contractual rights. It is fair, and it is right, and we will not look the otherway and let our contract be trampled.”