Carmen’s Union grieves T absenteeism policy
Top T official disappointed, says new approach making difference
A correction was added to this story regarding the language of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
THE BOSTON CARMEN’S UNION has filed a grievance over the MBTA’s new absenteeism and overtime policies, alleging management implemented the changes unilaterally in violation of the union’s contract.
The grievance prompted a strong response from the T’s chief administrator, who regularly trumpets progress in reducing absenteeism and overtime at meetings of the agency’s oversight board.
“The MBTA is turning a corner and the new rules are having a positive impact on productivity and customer service,” said Brian Shortsleeve, the chief administrator, in a statement. “We are reducing absenteeism, resulting in fewer dropped trips and creating an atmosphere where good attendance is valued. We are disappointed by any attempts to weaken this policy, which is consistent with state and federal law.”
Boston Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien issued a statement saying the grievance is moving forward because changes to contracts must be negotiated. O’Brien said the union fully supports a strong attendance policy, but not one crafted unilaterally by management. “The fact is that for years, MBTA management implemented a system that advised employees to consistently misuse the Family Medical Leave Act,” he said.
The grievance claims the MBTA’s new attendance policy violates the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the T. The Carmen’s Union acknowledged T management has the right to “make reasonable rules and regulations,” but the union asserted the absenteeism policy is unreasonable and improperly limits the use of contracted, negotiated leave benefits.
Specifically, the Carmen’s Union objected to a concurrent usage of leave policy that requires employees to use their paid vacation and earned sick time before getting unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The union also believes the T’s policy on absenteeism was implemented in an arbitrary and unfair manner.
T officials say the concurrent usage of leave policy is consistent among state and federal agencies. The Family and Medical Leave Act gives employees the choice of using paid vacation or accrued sick time instead of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But the law’s regulations state that “if an employee does not choose to substitute accrued paid leave, the employer may require the employee to substitute accrued paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave.”T officials say the new policies have reduced absenteeism, which in turn has led to reductions in overtime and missed bus trips. Earlier this month, T officials said overtime expense per day averaged $108,000 from January through May 2016. Over the same period last year, the average was $186,000 a year; for the whole year, the average was $154,000. The T also reported that unscheduled absences by transportation operators were down 33 percent through May compared to all of last year.
A management report issued in March said the percent of employees using one or more days of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act was 31.9 percent for the first seven months of the fiscal year. That compared to 41.3 percent for all of fiscal 2015. “This is a positive sign that the new leave policy is having an effect,” Shortsleeve said at the time.