For Contract Purposes, ‘Only’ Means ‘Only’

For many years, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections had assigned voluntary overtime to the least-senior corrections officer available. When the Department changed its practice and instituted a rotational list where employees who worked involuntary overtime would be rotated to the bottom of the list, the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union challenged the decision in arbitration.

The Arbitrator upheld the Union’s grievance. The Arbitrator looked to the contract language which stated that employees could be assigned to mandatory overtime “only” in inverse seniority. The Arbitrator posed the hypothetical question, “What other meaning can the word ‘only’ have, but that inverse seniority shall be strictly followed?” The Arbitrator acknowledged that practices at the Department’s other facilities were to use a rotational list. However, the Arbitrator also found that the parties had agreed that each correctional facility could develop overtime assignment practices that best fit its needs. The Arbitrator ordered the employer to return to the assignment of mandatory overtime on an inverse-seniority basis.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Corrections, LAIG 6776 (Grossman, 2009).

This article appears in the December 2009 issue