Navy club loses ruling

Naval Academy said to violate labor laws at campus restaurant

October 10, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

The Naval Academy violated labor laws and created an environment of "fear" and "intimidation" among civilian employees at an on-campus restaurant, according to an arbitration decision obtained by The Sun.

A federal arbitrator decided the case in favor of about 80 current and former employees who worked at the Officers' and Faculty Club. Several employees alleged that although they didn't take 30-minute lunch breaks, the time was docked from their pay, despite repeated complaints.

Union and academy officials are expected to hammer out the terms of payment by Oct. 31; union estimates put the figure at $100,000.

A Naval Academy spokesman declined to comment on the decision or the negotiations yesterday, saying that he had not seen the arbitration opinion and was unfamiliar with the case.

According to the documents, numerous workers in the club's restaurant, catering operations, warehouse and office complained to supervisors when they weren't allowed a break and weren't paid for working through it, often to no avail.

A woman said she was told: "That is the policy; if you don't like it, there's the door."

Elvis Bond, a supervisor at the Officers' and Faculty Club, reportedly said in front of employees that he ran his shop "on the basis of fear and retaliation," according to arbitration documents. Bond could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, some employees said they were paid when they didn't get a break, and according to evidence reviewed for the case, others who complained about the policy also were paid on some occasions, the documents say.

In September last year, before the American Federation of Government Employees Local 896 invoked arbitration, 35 employees filled out surveys detailing whether they had taken or been paid for breaks. Seventeen said that they either always received the break or had been paid when they didn't. Sixteen said they didn't receive a break and weren't paid for time worked, and two gave contradictory responses, according to the documents.

The time clock for employees automatically deducted 30 minutes from each day for a break, the report said. If employees didn't take the break, they could fill out a form noting that they hadn't received it. At some point in 2004, Bond placed a statement at the bottom of the forms which said: "If you had a meal, you had a break."

The arbitrator, Barbara B. Franklin, called this statement "patently false," writing in her arbitration decision that although the system "usually" worked, "the evidence was strong that many employees did not know that they were supposed to follow that procedure for missed meal breaks; they received no written instructions to that effect; and supervisors did not give clear advice that employees should fill out the schedule change forms."

The Naval Academy argued that the union had shown only "a few isolated instances" when employees didn't get paid, and that those were due to "human error." It also claimed the union contract didn't necessarily require the academy to provide lunch breaks.

Franklin disagreed, determining that the academy had violated the contract and the Fair Labor Standards Act. She granted back pay to current and former employees during the period between July 15, 2002 and July 15 last year.

"I also credit testimony that painted a picture of the workplace - or at least a segment of the workplace - as one of fear, intimidation and a woeful lack of knowledge by the employees of their rights," she wrote in the arbitration decision.

Edward Gough IV, former president of the Local 896, which was recently absorbed into a larger local union, said some employees have since seen improvement with the work environment, and the academy has added a break room.

"I'm just waiting for them to give us our money back," said one club employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

The worker said that in his years at the club, he rarely got a break, but it was a given that it would be deducted from his pay.

Working conditions were decent, he said, although supervisors occasionally lashed out against employees in front of customers.

"Right now, we're all a little fed up with everything that's gone on," he said, "but hopefully things will get better now that it was decided."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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