The collective bargaining agreement between the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections and the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union calls for the payment of a clothing allowance. The specific language of the contract states that the payment “shall be” issued on a pro rata basis depending upon the number of months of actual service by a corrections officer during the fiscal year.
In spite of the fairly clear contract language, a past practice developed under which the employer paid the entire annual clothing allowance without regard to how long the employee worked during the year.
In 2007, the employer elected to begin prorating the clothing allowance for corrections officers who graduated from academies in December 2006 and April 2007. The Union challenged the proration in arbitration.
An arbitrator upheld the employer’s decision. The Arbitrator found that the use of the phrase “shall be” meant that the contract’s language was mandatory not discretionary. The Arbitrator ruled that even a longstanding past practice could not overcome specific contract language to the contrary.
Worcester County Jail And House Of Corrections, LAIG 6670 (Pese, 2007).
This article appears in the March 2009 issue