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Appeals court backs Corrections officers on overtime quarrel

Faced with budget reductions in 2009, the state Corrections department’s effort to control spending violated its 2007 agreement with the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel overruled Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green’s 2012 ruling that the department had the authority to revise its method for calculating state compensatory time.

In a 15-page opinion, the appeals court ordered Green to rule for the association, instead.

An appeal to the state Supreme Court still is possible.

The appeals court noted the 2007 labor agreement gave the department “the authority to direct the corrections officers and conduct business as it sees fit, ‘except as modified by the terms of this Agreement,’” including the explicit right to “hire, assign, reassign, transfer, promote (employees) and to determine hours of work and shifts and assign overtime.”

The agreement also authorizes the department to “temporarily assign employees to a different work assignment on a daily basis.”

But one section of the agreement requires the department to provide 14 days notice before scheduling mandatory compensatory time reduction.

The ruling noted overtime decisions can be complicated because only some Corrections employees’ work is controlled by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, but all employees are covered by state law.

And the rules are designed to make sure that only one law or the other applies to a specific situation, so an employee can’t get both a federal and state benefit for the same overtime work.

The legal fight focused on instances where an employee worked overtime at the beginning of a week, then had a schedule change so his or her total work for the week was no more than 40 hours.

The department said overtime shouldn’t apply in that case.

But, the court ruled, while the department retains some scheduling flexibility, it “may not extinguish an employee’s right to state compensatory time by making schedule changes after beyond-shift hours are worked. ... Later scheduling changes cannot alter the fact that, on Monday, the officer physically worked ‘in excess of an assigned daily shift.’

“While the precise consequences of that additional work may not be knowable until the week is over, the Department cannot eliminate any consequence whatsoever.”

Making that kind of change, as the department’s 2009 memorandum changing the operating manual did, means the Corrections department is implementing a “mandatory compensatory time reduction” without 14 days’ notice.

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