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In issue of first impression, COA reverses union decision

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Following denials from a union officer, three union panels and a trial court, three former union employees successfully convinced the Indiana Court of Appeals that they are entitled to payment for their accrued vacation time. But the COA opinion was not unanimous.

In Commissioner of Labor on the Relation of Stephen R. Shofstall, Edward C. Posey, and Deborah Posey v. Int'l Union of Painters and Allied Trades, AFL-CIO, CLC District Council 91, No. 49A02-1103-PL-263, three former employees of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades claimed that they should have been paid for their accumulated, unused vacation time when they were terminated in 2008. The union’s business manager/secretary-treasurer denied the request, and the workers filed internal union charges in protest.

The appeals court wrote that in this case, the dispute is not about the union acting as the agent for its members, as the union happens to be the former employer. As such, the court wrote that this is an issue of first impression in Indiana.

A union internal trial board heard the case in 2009 and denied the claims. The former workers – Stephen Shofstall and Edward and Deborah Posey – then took their complaint to the general executive board but were unsuccessful. The three appealed to the union’s general convention, and were again denied their claims. Subsequently, a trial court also ruled in favor of the union.

According to Indiana’s Wage Payment Statute, vacation time is to be considered deferred wages, unless a policy exists to the contrary, the appeals court held. In consulting the union bylaws regarding overall compensation, the COA concluded that employees are entitled to 52 weeks of pay and an additional two weeks of vacation time. The appellate court majority arrived at this opinion based on the use of the word “also” in the bylaws, whereas the union has claimed that the two weeks of vacation time is included in the overall compensation of 52 weeks of pay.

In his dissent, Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote: “The term ‘also’ surely cannot work such mischief as to stand the plain meaning of the relevant bylaws on its head.”

The COA remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the three appellants are entitled to payment for all unused, accrued vacation time – about $22,079 for Shofstall’s unused 35 days and about $43,820 for the Poseys’ 111 days.


 

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