Masscop Members In Rockport Win Back National Guard Pay Benefit – Arbitrator Rejects Town’s Argument That Payments Are Unlawful.
Arbitrator Richard Boulanger handed a significant victory to Local 154 (Rockport) of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, AFL-CIO (“Union”) on August 3, 2016 when he sustained a grievance over pay cuts by the Town of Rockport (“Town”) for officers attending National Guard training. In doing so, Arbitrator Boulanger rejected the Town’s argument that it could not legally pay officers their full pay during National Guard training.
Two Rockport police officers who served in the National Guard and had been receiving full pay while attending mandatory military training were informed in January 2015 that the Town would now be deducting their National Guard military allowances from their pay, because, the Town claimed, to do otherwise would be illegal. The Union filed a grievance over the pay cut, which proceeded to a hearing before Arbitrator Boulanger. The Massachusetts Coalition of Police provided legal support by assigning Attorney John M. Becker, of Sandulli Grace, P.C., to represent Local 154 and the two grievants.
In his decision [which may be found HERE], Arbitrator Boulanger recognized that the Town had established a past practice of paying employees who were members of the National Guard their full pay while on leave attending mandatory training, without deducting the military allowance the employees received. The practice was encompassed by the strong maintenance of benefits provision in the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the Town and the Union, which protects any job benefit that (1) existed in the past and (2) has not been contractually modified, even if it is not mentioned in the CBA.
Boulanger rejected the Town’s argument that paying officers without deducting military allowances violated the law. Boulanger reviewed four statutes relating to military pay. First, the federal military leave law, USERRA, does not contain any provisions regarding pay during National Guard training, and so was irrelevant. Of three state statutes with some relevancy, none actually applied to this case, Arbitrator Boulanger concluded. G.L. c. 149, § 52a, which had previously provided for 17 days of military training leave to members of the reserves, which could be “paid or unpaid at the Town’s discretion”, was repealed in 2014 and was no longer good law. Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2003, a local option law that the Town had adopted, allows for paying regular base salary without loss of leave or seniority, but minus any military pay or allowance, for officers in “active service.” But as Arbitrator Boulanger pointed out, the statute is inapplicable because the officers in this case were not in “active service” and National Guard training is specifically excluded from the scope of the law. The Town had not adopted G.L. c. 33, § 59, a local option law, but Arbitrator Boulanger found that statute to be the most relevant. If adopted, the law (as amended in 2014) requires municipalities to give employees in the armed forces full pay without deducting for military stipends or pay during training, for up to 34 days in a state fiscal year or 17 days in a federal fiscal year, without loss of seniority or accrued leave. Boulanger pointed out that, although the Town had not adopted G.L. c. 33, § 59, it had adopted Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2003, which provides that it “shall not limit or reduce a person’s entitlement to benefits under [G.L. c. 33, § 59].”
Ultimately, Arbitrator Boulanger concluded that, while no statute specifically authorized the Town to pay full pay to employees during National Guard training, no statute prohibited the payments either, so the past practice of the Town – which was fully consistent with the local option law, G.L. c. 33, § 59 – was lawful and enforceable. For these reasons, the Arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered the Town of Rockport to pay the police officers full pay during military training without deducting military allowances going forward and pay the officer back pay to make them whole from the time their pay was cut in January 2015.