Judge Overturns Arbitration Ruling on Donated Leave

The R.H. Amphlett Leader Justice Complex, home of the Superior Court on St. Croix. (File photo)
The R.H. Amphlett Leader Justice Complex, home of the Superior Court on St. Croix. (File photo)

A Superior Court judge has rejected a decision on donated leave reached through arbitration in the case brought by an employee of the V.I. Port Authority.

Superior Court Judge Robert Molloy said “the arbitrator’s decision awarding donated sick leave” exceeded his authority as vested under the Virgin Islands Code.

The case at the root of Molloy’s Oct. 2 ruling began with a dispute between the United Steel Worker’s Union, representing a member who worked for the Port Authority. The worker sought donated leave from a relative who worked for another government agency in order to care for an ailing older relative.

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The union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement includes language allowing eligible government employees to receive donated sick or annual leave as long as they met the guidelines. Donated leave is codified in the Virgin Islands Code, Title 3, Section 583(b)a.

The worker asked union representatives to step in after that request was rejected by VIPA’s Human Resource Division. At the time the complainant was working at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. His request stated the need for emergency leave time in order to escort the older relative off island for medical treatment.

The airport worker said, “I am not certain about the policies when transferring time from other government agencies outside of [VIPA] She will complete the required forms and submit same to your office for your review and approval.”

The request was turned down. Instead the complainant was granted unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. The union filed a grievance in April 2014 after a follow up request to the Port Authority’s executive director was turned down as well. The case went before arbitrator Richard J. Miller in 2017. The grievance was forwarded to VIPA, but no reply was given.

Miller ruled the union contract included a provision for donated leave time and awarded the complainant full back pay with accrued sick leave for the time he was off the job.

As he reversed that decision, Molloy said the arbitrator had the right to rule in the case and correctly cited the Steel Workers’ Union contract. But the judge pointed out that the complaint did not submit his original request to the proper authority, as spelled out in the statute.

Officials at the Port Authority did not have the authority to grant the request, Molloy said. Only the Director of the Division of Personnel could do so and at no time was that request sent to the Division of Personnel.

Molloy went on to note that the Federal Arbitration Act limits the power of the courts to overturn an arbitrator’s ruling. Under the four instances where a decision of that kind can be overturned, one says the court can step in if “the arbitrator exceeded his powers.”

He also upheld the Port Authority’s argument that neither the union nor the arbitrator provided them a timely notice that they violated the collective bargaining agreement.

“While the Arbitrator had the authority to decide whether the Port Authority violated the time limitations in the grievance and arbitration procedures of the CBA, the Arbitrator exceeded his authority in awarding [the complainant] donated sick leave benefits in the absence of any approval by the Director of the Division of Personnel,” the judge said.

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