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Vt. state employee wins appeal in military leave

By John Curran
Associated Press Writer / August 9, 2010

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—The Vermont Labor Relations Board has ruled in favor of a prison guard who the Department of Corrections said had to use his 15 days of contractually mandated paid military leave up front, as opposed to spreading it through the year.

The ruling came in the case of Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility guard Shawn Stocker, a member of the Vermont National Guard who filed a grievance after the state changed two of his time sheets to make him use all of his paid military leave before he could go on unpaid military leave.

"Shawn simply wanted to be able to spread out his paid military leave in a way that made fiscal sense to him and his family," said Michael Casey, general counsel for the Vermont State Employees' Association, which represented Stocker. "Our contract grants him the right to do just that, but the state decided on its own to change the rules for Shawn, saying he had to use all his paid military leave up front."

Stocker, a master sergeant with 24 years combined military service, had previously been allowed to scatter the paid leave days he accrued in his state job, which he wanted because it ensured a steady stream of income when he was away for military training.

It also helped him preserve his sick leave and annual leave accruals.

But when he was in Texas for military training in 2008, his wife contacted him to say he'd been overpaid in the period covering his time away, and when he got home and saw copies of his time sheets, they had been altered -- putting him in unpaid status for 64 hours and eliminating his sick and annual leave accruals for one pay period -- and did not have his signature.

The state had maintained that under the contract it was appropriate to have workers use up their paid military leave first. Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito referred calls to Human Resources Commissioner Caroline Earle, who said the ruling reflects the labor board's interpretation of the statute, not the state's.

"We're disappointed, but we understand the Labor Board is attempting to clarify, from its perspective, the collective bargaining agreement's terms based on the facts as it understood them," Earle said.

The finding, which only affects Stocker, won't be appealed, she said.

In its July 22 decision, the Labor Relations Board said that allowing state workers who are also in the military to schedule their leave time is key to ensuring they're not penalized for serving.

"The ability of an employee to balance paid and unpaid military leave to preserve his or her annual and sick leave accruals protects job rights and benefits of employees performing military obligations and allows them to fulfill such obligations without penalty," the three-member panel wrote.

In Stocker's case, they said, the state violated his contract by requiring him or anyone to exhaust the 15 paid leave days prior to using unpaid leave.

The Board ordered that the annual and sick leave accruals he lost out on be restored, and told the state to stop requiring him to exhaust his paid military leave time before using unpaid military leave time.

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