An arbitrator has ruled that the Cranston, Rhode Island School Department must raise nearly half of the members of NAGE Local 153 up three steps after a conflict about how to implement deferred steps late in the life of a contract—a correction that adds up to approximately $80,000 in back pay and overtime.
Union members who are paid according to negotiated steps typically move into steps that reflect their years of service, and employees usually move up the steps on a yearly basis.
When NAGE and the School Department negotiated a contract for 2005-2008, NAGE National Representative Paul Saccoccia negotiated the addition of three new steps in the contract for custodial and stock room employees. Local 153 and the School Department agreed to defer implementing steps 7, 8 and 9 until 2007-2008, the third year of the contract, because of the budget constraints. But in July 2007, the School Department moved employees up from their current steps into the next steps, not the steps that accurately reflected their years of service. That means that 41 of the bargaining unitís 97 members were bumped up only to step 7, even though each of them had nine years or more in service. Saccoccia filed a grievance on behalf of the members of Local 153 who should have been moved to step 9.
Arbitration: donít penalize employees for deferral
At arbitration, Saccoccia and NAGE attorney Gary Gentile argued that all three steps were to be implemented in 2007, and that there had been no discussion about employees moving up only one step at a time. The School Department argued that when the agreement was resolved in 2006, the budget for 2006-2007 had already been passed and that the department had agreed to one step in 2007 and the others in July 2008, after the life of the contract in question.
The arbitrator said that the contract language could support either position. Each sideís position has merits and problems, said the arbitrator, but he ruled that the grievance should be sustained and that the School Department should move all of the NAGE Local 153 members up to their appropriate steps, based on actual years of service. The employees will receive their appropriate step rate and any applicable back pay retroactive to July 2008.