Union Members Entitled to Longevity Bonus Despite Working Without a Contract

Nurses were eligible for two types of wage increments: an across-the-board annual raise and a periodic longevity-based wage increase as individual nurses progressed from one experience level to the next. Both raises were paid in January each year. In January 2014, nine months after the contract expired but while negotiations for a successor agreement were ongoing, the hospital did not pay the longevity-based raises to the nurses. The Administrative Law Judge who heard the case agreed that the Employer had no contractual obligation to pay the longevity-based wage increase in January 2014. However, because nothing in the contract addressed the wage increases after the contract expired, the National Labor Relations Act required the company to operate as if the provision was still in effect.

I don’t understand this ruling. Generally, most clauses in a collective bargaining agreement remain the same after the agreement expires. However, raises are typically not given, and if provided for in the successor agreement, may or may not be retroactive. The judge in this instance bifurcated across-the-board annual raises (the typical kind) and longevity-based raises. According to this decision, longevity-based raises are akin to Christmas hams; viewed as an entitlement that must be given after the expiration of a union contract if given during the pendency of that contract. Cost-conscious companies should review their collective bargaining agreements for lock-step bonuses, raises, or benefits that employees automatically get for whatever reason and determine if these clauses should remain in your company’s next collective bargaining agreement.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.