NAPE/AFSCME represents around 100 workers at the DHHS Customer Service Center in Scottsbluff. This winter, there have been several occasions where severe winter weather has prevented employees from safely commuting to work. DHHS’ emergency weather policy states that if a worksite needs to be closed due to weather, the agency can put employees in a paid status for the workday, since they were ready to work but prevented from doing so by the severe weather.
In December, a particularly harsh blizzard hit the Scottsbluff area. There was significant snowfall and high winds. Some employees tried to report to work, but were prevented from doing so because the state highway leading to the building was closed, and snow drifts blocked the doors of the call center. After the workday started, supervisors notified their employees that the building was inaccessible due to the snowstorm, and that they should not even try to come into work that day.
After the storm, when employees were able to return to work, they were told that they would have to use vacation leave, or go without pay for the workday that the building was inaccessible. This is in violation of the agency’s severe weather policy – since the building was physically inaccessible, employees should have been in a paid status. Employees should not have had to use their own earned leave to cover the day. After this announcement was made, and after an attempt to work through the issue with management, 9 union members at the call center filed grievances with the assistance of our NAPE/AFSCME field staff. The grievances alleged that DHHS violated our union contract by implementing the emergency weather policy in an unreasonable, unfair, and irresponsible manner.
After months of meeting with management and advocating for the employees to be paid, CEO Dannette Smith agreed to submit a request to DAS for the employees to be paid on the day of the snowstorm without having to use their earned vacation leave. DAS approved the request, not only for the 9 union members that filed grievances, but for all employees at the facility.
Even though it took months to accomplish, this was a big win for employees during inclement weather. While employees may be required to use vacation leave if they choose not to report to work during inclement weather, if a worksite is truly inaccessible, they should not have to use their earned leave for the day. If you ever have questions about your rights during inclement weather, reach out to your union representative right away for assistance.