BETHLEHEM, NY – An arbitrator said the town of Bethlehem violated police officers’ collective bargaining contract by denying personal leave based solely on the reason that it would cause overtime.
The arbitrator, Louis N. Kash, said police management may consider the operational needs of the department when approving or denying personal leave, but said overtime is not an operational issue.
“Curtailing overtime is a fiscal, not operating, need of the Town,” Kash wrote in his decision on two grievances filed by the Bethlehem Police Benevolent Association.
Mike Berben, president for the officers’ union, praised the decision.
“Unlike Supervisor Clarkson, the arbitrator recognized that our officers should be able to take a day off to bring a parent for cancer treatment or to care for a sick child,” Berben said.
Town Supervisor John Clarkson said he disagrees with the ruling but said the arbitrator upheld the town’s position on many other points, including officers must provide a reason for personal leave and personal leave should not be used as routine time off.
The patrol officer’s contract gives officers five personal days that can be used for personal matters like doctor’s appointments, religious obligations, caring for a sick relative and emergency situations. Management may consider the operational needs of the department when deciding whether to approve personal day requests.
According to the grievances filed by the union, two officers were denied personal days because it would cause overtime. Both officers were requesting a personal day to care for sick relatives, in one case a sick child and, in the other, a father with leukemia. Neither officer provided the reason for their request to their supervisor and the supervisors did not ask for a reason before denying their requests. They were told that taking leave would require another officer to work their shift on overtime.
“Not to approve a request for personal leave that is legitimate and does not adversely impact the operating needs of the Police Department is a violation of the [contract],” Kash wrote.
Kash, however, did not agree with the union’s suggestion that officers be allowed to use personal leave in any situation where other forms of leave are not available.
The union has nine other grievances pending before the Public Employment Relations Board