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June 15, 2021

Federal Court Holds that Illinois Correctional Officers’ Claims Are Not Required To Be Arbitrated

A federal court in Illinois refused to dismiss a case against Cook County, IL and its sheriff brought on behalf of union represented correctional officers for Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and minimum wage claims for unpaid time spent sanitizing before and after their shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Home » News » Federal Court Holds that Illinois Correctional Officers’ Claims Are Not Required To Be Arbitrated

Tue, 06/15/2021

A federal court in Illinois refused to dismiss a case against Cook County, IL and its sheriff brought on behalf of union represented correctional officers for Fair Labor Standards Act overtime and minimum wage claims for unpaid time spent sanitizing before and after their shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The correctional officers filed the suit because they were required to spend additional unpaid time before and after their shifts washing hands, sanitizing uniforms and preparing personal protective equipment (“PPE”). The court rejected the sheriff’s argument that a collective bargaining agreement required the officers to arbitrate their claims. The claims for compensation made in the complaint are not covered by the agreement, which does not discuss decontamination pay. A “civil emergency clause in the agreement gives the county the right to assign officers additional duties, but not without pay”, the court said.

The correctional officers work for the Cook County Department of Corrections (“CCDOC”). In March of 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they began spending approximately 20 to 30 minutes washing and sanitizing their uniforms, persons, and PPE before and after their shifts. They performed these decontamination activities before a shift to minimize the introduction of COVID-19 to the Cook County Jail, and after a shift to avoid bringing COVID-19 home to their families. The correctional officers sued for minimum wage and overtime compensation for time spent engaging in these decontamination activities.

The employer argued that that the CBA addresses the claims set forth in the correctional officers’ complaint, meaning that the correctional officers were required to arbitrate their claims, and that specifically, the officers’ claims for unpaid wages concern compensation and working conditions, which are mandatory subjects of bargaining. The employer also argued that because the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a “civil emergency,” the question of whether the CCSO may require or encourage correctional officers to engage in decontamination activities under the “civil emergency” language necessitates interpretation of the CBA, which would happen through arbitration. The court disagreed, however, and held that the officers’ claims were not required to be arbitrated because the CBA did not contain any language about decontamination pay.

For more information on minimum wage and overtime violations, click here.

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