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Rail News: Labor

U.S. Class Is' FMLA leave policies violate labor agreements, arbitration panel says


Earlier this week, a three-member arbitration panel ruled that the four U.S. Class Is’ Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policies violate the rail industry’s national vacation and personal leave agreements.

Eleven rail labor unions had challenged the railroads’ policies, which require workers to use paid vacation and personal leave time when taking FMLA leave in certain cases. About two years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that the law did not permit the railroads to override collective bargaining agreement provisions that provide workers control over scheduling paid leave. The parties eventually agreed to arbitration.

The arbitration panel determined that existing labor contracts grant employees rights to determine when to use their accrued vacation and/or personal leave time. In addition, “clear contract language and similar consistent arbitral precedent protect use of personal leave days and individual vacation days from arbitrary or unreasonable unilateral employer action unrelated to operational needs or other contractual standards,” the panel ruled.
The arbitration agreement, which takes effect Dec. 22, requires the Class Is to immediately discontinue the “invalidated provisions” of their policies, the unions said. Arbitrators then will consider an appropriate remedy for employees who were required to use paid leave for FMLA leave. The panel plans to conduct a hearing in February and issue a decision in April.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/11/2008