Supreme Court justice allows sanitation workers to leave early

CHEEKTOWAGA – Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister on Wednesday dismissed the Town of Cheektowaga’s lawsuit seeking to have an arbitrator’s decision annulled – which would have forced sanitation workers to work a full six-hours before ending their workday.

The town petitioned the court after an arbitrator ruled last year that sanitation workers could leave work after five-hours under an incentive clause in the Town of Cheektowaga Employee’s Association collective bargaining agreement with the town.  Workers would leave early by combining their two paid, quarter-hour breaks, and their paid half-hour lunch break together. The town held that allowing the practice would violate state law and could result in civil and criminal penalties for misreporting retirement service credits to the state.

The union grieved a February 2017 letter from Deputy Town Attorney Melissa Reese which enforced, “if you leave prior to 12:00 noon, you will be given pro-rated credit for the day and not full credit.”

Justice Bannister sided with the arbitrator’s decision saying, “The Arbitrator found that the practices of the parties prior to the letter of February 2017 includes the requirement of a six-hour workday. This court agrees because to fail to include the paid lunch and break as part of the workday would be violative of several state labor laws requiring such breaks.”

Items damaged by the recent flood will be picked up on your normal garbage day. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

She also says that the Reese letter violated established past practice – a long-standing, frequent practice that is accepted by both parties – of leaving early.  “Here it is apparent that the implementation had been, for time immemorial, for the sanitation workers to work a straight five-hour workday, followed by an accumulated one-hour lunch and rest breaks which may be taken off-premises.”

Councilmember Gerald Kaminski who oversees the Sanitation Department with Councilmember Christine Adamczyk is disappointed with Justice Bannister’s decision.

“We’re going to have to sort this one out honestly,” said Mr. Kaminski.  “To report it, we are supposed to follow the state rules. I don’t know where it’s going to end up with this judge’s decision because my feelings, it’s against the state rules to give them full credit for five-hours instead of six.”

Mr. Kaminski says he thinks the board may discuss appealing the decision to the state’s appellate court.

The President of the TCEA says they’re ready for the fight.

“God, bless ‘um, good luck,” said Dino Szymkowiak.  “We’ve gave back and gave back.  They wanted insurance, we gave them 25 jobs I think five years ago – where’s all that money.  I gave them two jobs this year, they just keep on fighting, they want a fight.”

Mr. Szymkowiak estimates that the town has lost 10 different arbitrations cases to the TCEA between late 2016 through 2017.

“Everybody knows somebody and we shouldn’t be fighting in arbitration.  We should be able to talk these things out,” added Mr. Szymkowiak.

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