REMEMBER THIS AFGE AWOL DECISION
One of the reasons we activated Fedsmill was to overcome the disadvantage regional and local union leaders are at when they have no way to hear about case victories from other unions. That hobbles them and it can be terminal for the employee whose career hangs in the balance. For example, when an employee in a Florida VA cemetery was AWOL 21 times over a 100-day period the agency suspended him for 14 days. (The employee also had a zero balance of annual, sick, and FMLA leave during those 100 days.) When the case got to arbitration, …
the arbitrator also found the employee’s testimony was not credible on a key point. Based on those facts, most union reps would have predicted no more than a 5% chance that the employee would win in arbitration. Many union reps would have refused to even invoke arbitration. Nonetheless, his AFGE reps took the case and focused on management’s failure to do something about the employee’s AWOL habit sooner. AFGE insisted that had the manager taken lesser discipline long before the number of AWOL incidents hit double digits the need to suspend might have been avoided. The arbitrator agreed, writing that, “. ..the Agency’s imposition of discipline was neither timely nor proportionate. Rather than impose a Reprimand for the first or second occurrence of AWOL, it permitted what it believed to have been 23 AWOL occurrences to have accumulated before it took any disciplinary action. That was not corrective; to the contrary, the Agency’s inaction was an indication of its apparent willingness to be tolerant of AWOLs.” The arbitrator reduced the 14-day suspension to a reprimand and gave the employee full back pay and benefits. This is one of those cases that any local union rep should whip out in an oral reply, grievance or arbitration hearing to support a reduction of any suspension as the first disciplinary response to an employee’s AWOL. ER/LR reps can also use it when some manager comes storming into their office demanding an AWOL employee be severely suspended or fired, despite the fact that the managers has done nothing about that employee’s long AWOL or leave abuse habit. If you want a copy of this decision, we recommend you contact the AFGE local, i.e., # 547 at the VA’s Florida National Cemetery, to ask for one. Be sure to congratulate them for taking on a case that most folks would have said was a sure-loser. The case name is Gottsman.
Please remove my phone number from this article. This case was fought by AFGE Local 547, located in Tampa Florida.