Yesterday, I traveled to Syracuse to resolve some unfinished business with my old employer, WSTM-TV. I was scheduled to testify in an arbitration hearing on a grievance I initially filed back in April, 2008.
A producer had left the station and was told by management they would only be getting a portion of her vacation time they earned. It turned out that the company had been knowingly withholding vacation time, or “pro-rating” upon an employee’s termination. In some instances, some members had a part of their final paycheck taken out because they took all of their vacation time during the year.
Barrington Broadcasting had adopted the same policies in their employee handbook as their former employer, Raycom Media and their position that it was a, “past practice”.
The union’s position (NABET-CWA) was that the employee handbook doesn’t apply to union members. According to our collective bargaining agreement, vacation was accrued in the previous calendar year (December 31st), and therefore earned at the beginning of the calendar year. Not only should the grievant be allowed to use their vacation time, they should be compensated once they leave.
The situation adversely affected me when I left WSTM. I still had seven days of vacation time left, which I was originally going to take in December. However, when I left the TV station in November, 2008; I only received 5.5 days.
I ordered the incoming Chief Steward to file a grievance on my behalf. We had gone through the steps of the grievance, from a written denial by the company to non-binding mediation. The arbitration was the final step. This is where an administrative law judge takes a look at the case and makes a ruling, which is binding. The danger of that is, if the case is ruled for the company, the current practice becomes part of the CBA and not subject to any further grievances.
So, I get to Bond, Schoeneck & King (ironically, a union busting law firm) for the hearing and our union lawyer is prepping me for my testimony. Twenty minutes later, the company’s lawyer alerts our union lawyer, Matt, that he wanted to talk.
A few minutes later, Matt comes back with a proposal from the company. Turns out, the compromise included everything I asked for, with the addition of the current practice of pro-rating vacation time when individuals leave still continuing on. However, if people had taken their vacations in the calendar year, the company would not ask for vacation time back in their final paycheck. In order for the agreement reached yesterday to be successful, members have to know to take their vacations before they leave.
After the meeting was done around noon, I started to realize the magnitude of this settlement. I had nothing else to fight for at WSTM. My work was complete. All of my previous grievances were resolved. “A clean slate”, as you would say. Technically, I have no obligation to WSTM union members anymore. The ball is in their court, now.
My 8 years as a steward at WSTM were harsh, but rewarding. It changed me politically and made me a better person. I’m not sure what career path the current Chief Steward, “Evil Steve” has, but I’m sure like my life, there’s something else other than being a steward.
But deep down, I can’t help but have concern for my former employees. If the union members of WSTM had a rally against the company, you know I’d be there in a heartbeat. But do I really think my former union members will care and support their cause? I sure hope so! I’d hate to think what the alternative is!