Are we being unreasonable? Aka Why I'm Pissed at my union

Preface: I’m looking for honest opinions from the teeming masses. If you are a lawyer and you provide an opinion I understand that I am not your client and you are not my lawyer. I understand that the laws in my area may be different than your area and that I should not trust legal advise given over the Internet.

With that said…

As many of you know I’m an employee of the Great State of New Jersey and was forced to work during the shutdown.

When I say forced to work I mean the leave I was granted was revoked. The same thing happened to many of my coworkers who were told we were considered essential employees.

After the state had a budget passed a decision was made to pay everyone who did not work their normal pay for the period in question. This equaled four of five days worth of pay depending on if you were in the alternate work week program or not.

In our contract article 18 says

Special Time Off

** A. Emergency of Special Observations **

  1. Whenever the Governor may declare a special emergency of observation of an event of State or national concern and authorizes time off to employees of the State of the observation of such and event, those employees covered by this Agreement who are required to work during the period of the authorized time off shall be compensated for such hours worked as outlined in this Agreement, or as otherwise authorized by the Governor.
    2. Every employee designated as essential will receive notice of such designation each year. Notice of such designations will also be provided to the Union.
    3. Employees who are designed essential will receive a sticker for their ID card identifying them as essential.

**B. Other **
Whenever the Governor may declare time off for all employees (such as a day preceding or following an existing holiday) those who are required to work on that day shall be compensated for such hours worked by being granted equivalent time off at other times in accordance with the Governor’s proclamation, or as provided by the appointing authority and, if operationally feasible as requested by the employee. If the time off occurs on a seven (7) day operation employee’s regular day off, he/she shall be granted equivalent time off in accordance with the above provision.
**C. Inclement Weather **
(this part doesn’t apply)

Based on how we are interpreting this, those of us who were forced to work believe we are entitled to comp time per section B. None of us have been told we were essential prior to the shutdown and none of us have the stickers that A2 and A3 talk about.

Our Union is basically refusing to file a grievance on our behalf. We were told that if we as individuals want to file one they will accept it but will not give us any support. If we need to go to an arbitration session our shop stewards who have had no negotiation training will be the ones to represent us because the union says the issue is not related to our contract.

If our union will not repesent us then what are we paying union dues for? In my office there are at least 20 people who believe we are entitled to the time based on our contact and there are at least two other offices involved.

According to our contract and collective bargining agreement all complains about policys and procedures have to go thought the Union we can not complain directly to upper management.

What I want to know is

  1. Do you (IN YOUR OPINION) believe we should be given the 4 or 5 days that we are asking for based on our contact

  2. Have you ever withdrew from a union because you have no conficence in the leadership?

  3. If you were a union member Have you ever switched the union locals that represent your office?

  1. As I read this, I am generally supportive of your interpretation. But this seems ro revolve around two phrases:

Section A 1. doesn’t seem to apply to you because it soesn’t seem that a buget crisis fits within the definition of “…the Governor may declare a special emergency of observation of an event of State or national concern…”.

Section B would seem to be the key passage. “Whenever the Governor may declare time off for all employees (such as a day preceding or following an existing holiday)…”

I supposed the laywers would argue that some particular detail in the governor’s declaration makes section B not applicable. I would be interested to look at it if there is some official declaration that’s posted online.

I must agree though, that the intent of the rule is clear, that essential employees are due additional compensation for their additionals work. What this means is that your union lokely bargained your contract rights away as part of a deal to reopen the government, and is risking that there won’t be enough possed-off members to insweat them at the next election. How many of you get stiffed? I imagine a max of 10-15%, which means the other 85% got a paid vacation. Pretty safe bet. But I could be wrong.

Also seems unlikely that you can convince enough cow-orkers to vote one union out and another in, for the same reason. Are you allowed individually not to be a union member?

I agree with Boyo Jim, I don’t see what happened in your state applying to what is stated in your union contract. I don’t want this taken the wrong way, but it appears to me like a case of sour grapes, other state employees got something that you didn’t. Unless you and your fellow employees can come up with proof that the governor proclaimed a special emergency, you have very little to back up your position. I agree with your union, it appears to be a policy issue, not a union contract issue.

Yes we can opt out of paying union dues but then the union would not represent those who stop paying thd dues in the event of a greivence.

I agree there is the possibility that the union made a secret deal to have everyone paid for the time even if they didn’t work but I wonder if the union has the right to make a private deal.

There is nothing we have been able to get in writing from the Union that says why they believe the issue is not covered under Article 18.

In the Executive Order shutting down the state it says "The Governor of New Jersey has the authority under the Disaster Control Act to issue the Executive Order in order to deal with the emergency that occurs when the state fails to meet its constitutional obligation of a balanced budget. The order requires a limited number of state employees to report to work to provide essential services, to provide for the delivery of essential goods and services, and to provide for the orderly shutdown of non-essential services. "

Exactly our point. It doesn’t seem to be a special emergency whioch would cover section A and all we are entitled to is compensation (ie pay) for the time worked so it must fall under Other.

If person X has job title Y and was off from Minday-Friday and was deemed non-essential and person Z has the same job title but was off less then the full week so they were determined essential isn’t there confusion because the job duties and title are the same?

In my experience,management always finds new ways to interpret the contract, and the union has the annoying tendency to go along with it. I remember one rather heated discussion with a union steward that ended with him saying “Yeah, that’s what the contract says, but that’s not necessarily what it** means.**”

MannyL, I can empathize. I have been in similar situations a few times in my 34 years in a union factory (I’m retired now.) There are times when you have to accept an unfair situation, and this is one of those times. The people who were told to go home got a mandatory paid vacation. As I understand your post, those people didn’t know they were getting paid until it was over, so it wouldn’t have been a happy time for them, either. You, on the other hand, got screwed, but there’s probably nothing you can do about it.

1.) I think it would be fair to pay you “essentials” the 4 or 5 days. During that time, it probably looked like the laid-off were getting hosed worse than you. Then, after the fact, they got paid, and the balance tipped the other way. In the big picture, the greater number of members came out okay, and sometimes that’s the best a union can do. Once you have used the grievance procedure and come out unsatisfied, you have few options. You can gripe about it forever, boring all your friends. You can run for office in the union, if you think you could have done better. You can accept your misfortune and get on with your life.

  1. and 3.) I don’t recommend either of these options. The power of the union comes from all its members, not just the leaders. Even when you have personally lost a week’s pay, it’s important to stand by the union. Don’t dilute the power of the many by chipping away at the rock you stand on.

That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Ok, looking at the declaration, state employees got divided into two groups:

  1. You and your fellow “essentials”
  2. the rest, who were tp be treated as follows:

It doesn’t appear they were granted leave that was then revoked. It seems they were laid off, and you weren’t. Then the legislature stepped in to restore the losses incurred by all the laid off-employees. You didn’t suffer financial losses, so you weren’t covered.

I think you’re SOL.

Go ahead and be annoyed, but there’s probably nothing you can do about it. At least your union might sometimes fight for it’s employees, though. My local is a piece of shit. They don’t even fight when people don’t get paid (we’re a hiring-hall union, because this is a right to work state).


I doubt your contract covers this specific situation- the governor didn’t really " grant a day off" to the other employees- they were laid off. A similar situation has happened in my job- although it was not a budget crisis, there have been emergencies declared and state workers who were unable to get to work were not forced to use leave time. As in your situation, the decision not to require use of leave time was made after the fact , and those who did make it to work received no extra compensation. There are a couple of practical reasons for the union not to file grievances, aside from the fact that it is unlikely the contract makes any provision for that specific, rare, event. One is that more union members were helped by the retroactive decision to pay them than were “hurt” by not being paid twice for the same days worked. Two, I can guarantee what my state’s response would have been if I had filed a grievance because I didn’t get extra pay or extra accruals for working on the day of a blackout or blizzard because the governor later decided that people didn’t need to charge leave for absences. There would have been some thinking along the lines of “No good deed goes unpunished” , and the next emergency would have ended up with everyone being forced to use leave time for absences. I suspect the government in NJ would think the same way

Actually they were not laid-off or furloughed . Our union reminded the powers that be of the clause that says 45 days notice was to be given before any lay-off or furlough and that is why those people ended up being paid.

AskNott do you agree with me that the Union should allow us to grieve for the days and then based on the outcome accept the decision. At this point the Union will not support our grievance and that is my biggest grievance.

4 or 5 days of extra time off would be nice but in the long run it won’t change my life. I’m concerned that if we don’t stand up for our rights given in this contract when they start negotation the next one we may appear weak.

What do you mean? You provided the link to the governor’s executive prder, which says in part:

So unless he issued ANOTHER order superceding this one, they WERE indeed furloughed.

You say “a decision was made” to pay the empployees for their missed time. I would guess that means either the legislature did it as part of the deal that re-opened government offices, or your agency’s senior management did .Do you know who made that decision? Was it across the board for all state offices?