Manchester loses labor dispute over police sick time

·4 min read

Aug. 6—MANCHESTER — The state's Board of Labor Relations has issued a decision siding with the town's police union over requiring vaccinated officers to use sick time to cover COVID-19 related absences.

The Manchester Police Officers Association filed a complaint in December 2021 alleging that the town violated the Municipal Employee Relations Act by eliminating paid administrative leave for employees affected by COVID-19, that was known as "COVID Time."

Union president Lt. John Rossetti said Thursday that the complaint was filed because the union felt losing COVID Time was unfair given the circumstances of the pandemic.

COVID TIME

WHAT: In April 2020, the town began providing paid administrative leave to emergency responders who tested positive for COVID-19 or were quarantining due to possible exposure. The town was previously required to give the benefit to all other employees as a result of a federal law enacted in March 2020.

COMPLAINT: The police union submitted a complaint in December 2021 to the state labor board alleging the town violated state law by suspending the practice for unvaccinated employees in May 2021, and for fully vaccinated employees in September 2021.

OUTCOME: The town was ordered in July to reimburse fully vaccinated police union employees for any sick time or other paid time used for absences related to COVID-19, and resume providing COVID Time for police union employees.

"We have officers on the front line that never had the luxury of working remotely, and specifically have been tasked with dealing with individuals with COVID where we don't have the discretion to choose otherwise," Rossetti said.

In a decision dated July 13, the state labor board ordered the town to reinstate COVID Time specifically for vaccinated police union employees and reimburse any sick leave or other paid time for absences by those employees that would have been otherwise covered.

General Manager Steve Stephanou said Thursday that the decision only affects police union employees, and that there is no added cost associated with the order as the affected union members were already paid for the sick time they were required to take.

"The only impact will be reimbursing the sick (day) bank of any fully vaccinated employee who used their own sick leave due to COVID since September 2021," Stephanou said.

Rossetti said the union feels that the decision by the labor board was satisfactory.

"We look forward to working with the town and don't anticipate any issue moving forward regarding COVID Time being available," Rossetti said.

According to the labor board's decision, the town "unilaterally changed a condition of employment" when it eliminated COVID Time for union employees, which occurred for all town staff in September 2021.

Before that, the town eliminated COVID Time for all unvaccinated employees in May 2021, in order to encourage vaccinations for all staff. In June 2021, the town and the union entered into contract negotiations, where the existing collective bargaining agreement was extended through June 2023.

The decision states that during the negotiations, neither the town nor the union brought up the issue of COVID Time for unvaccinated employees.

"A union waives its right to bargain when it receives adequate notice of the pending change and fails to demand bargaining," the decision reads.

The decision states that the removal of COVID Time for vaccinated employees occurred after contract negotiations ended, making it distinct from the removal for unvaccinated employees.

The labor board found that the town made a "two-pronged argument" by suggesting that the overall removal of COVID Time was not a change but a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, and that COVID Time was a temporary benefit put in place in a state of emergency.

"We are not persuaded by either argument," the decision states.

The decision states that COVID Time was established as a condition of employment due to the time it was established for and agreed upon by all parties — about 18 months for vaccinated employees.

The decision further states that it is well settled that paid leave is a subject that cannot be changed for union employees without bargaining. A municipality can make a temporary change involving a mandatory subject of bargaining in an emergency, but by 2021 the pandemic "would not have impeded the town from bargaining over changes to COVID Time in June and September."

Joseph covers East Hartford and South Windsor. He joined the JI in July 2021. Joseph graduated from the University of Connecticut and he is an avid guitarist and coffee enthusiast.