Part-time Cornwall police staff awarded back pay for benefits: arbitrator

(Newswatch Group/File)

CORNWALL – A board of arbitration has awarded five current and former part-time police employees compensation in lieu of benefits plus interest for money they weren’t receiving on their paycheques.

In his 37 page decision of March 10, 2016, arbitrator Howard Snow also ruled the practice should not be limited to the 31 day period of the grievance nor should it be limited to January 1, 2013 – the starting date of the latest collective agreement.

In the agreed facts, employees Bruce Cote, Scott Hanton, Donald De Gray, Barbara Reynolds and Rhonda MacIntosh had been full time employees that were later re-hired part time.

While three are still working to this day, two of them – Reynolds and MacIntosh – stopped working in 2014.

The dispute between the police force and the union was over interpretation of whether a full-time employee that had retired and was receiving retiree benefits should be compensated in lieu of benefits when re-hired part-time.

The union had been tipped off to a problem with the pay after two employees, who were not retirees, compared their pay stubs and found their pay was different. While that was corrected, this error prompted other employees to check their pay stubs and the five parties found they were receiving four per cent in lieu of vacation and not the eight per cent in lieu of benefits (for a total of 12 per cent).

One of the five employees notified his supervisor, who in turn notified the union. The Cornwall Police Association filed a grievance May 15, 2015. It was rejected by Deputy Chief Danny Aikman by a letter dated May 26, 2015. The chief, Dan Parkinson, also rejected the claim in a letter on June 2, 2015. The police board also denied the claim but didn’t make a written response, reads the judgment.

“The five affected retirees were no longer full time employees and they did not receive the benefits paid to full time employees. It cannot be said that the retirees receive the “benefits enjoyed by Full-Time Employees under this Agreement” – they receive the lesser bundle of benefits paid to retirees,” arbitrator Howard Snow wrote.

“The retirees receive the retiree benefits as compensation for the work which they performed during the years they were full time employees, not as compensation for the work they do in their new part time jobs,” the arbitrator ruled.

Snow also didn’t agree with the employer’s argument that it was “double dipping”, saying the retirees’ benefits are deferred compensation for work previously done and “have nothing to do with their part time work.”

The arbitrator also ruled, since both parties knew the grievance addressed a time from 2007, “one would think that a remedy in arbitration would address the same period.”

Since the provision for 12 per cent in lieu of vacation and benefits was introduced in 2003 and a retiree wasn’t hired until 2007, Snow felt the union would have had no idea there was a problem until it surfaced when employees starting checking their pay stubs.

As for awarding compensation prior to the current collective agreement, arbitrator Snow seemed to balk at the suggestion from the employer that this would be a “windfall” for employees.

“I do not find this to be a windfall payment. This payment is simply the retirees being paid the monetary amounts agreed upon in the collective agreement. I do not view being paid the agreed upon amounts as a windfall. If anything, not ordering payment of the agreed upon amounts would represent a windfall benefit for the Employer,” he wrote.

The judgment will cost the force at least $17,539.64 to cover the period from January 1, 2013 until December 31, 2015. That doesn’t include compensation for the period from 2007-2013.

Part-time civilian employees are paid in the neighbourhood of $30 an hour, not including the 12 per cent for vacation and benefits on top of that.

The force has had roughly 50 part-time civilian employees since August 2003 but the issue of those employees who have retiree benefits didn’t happen until 2007.

The arbitration hearing also cost the police board $11,494.93 in legal fees.