American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1592 (Union) and United States Department of the Air Force, Hill Air Force Base, Utah (Agency)

XX FLRA No

64 FLRA No. 159

                                                                                                                                               

                       

FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY

WASHINGTON, D.C.

_____

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES

LOCAL 1592

(Union)

and

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, UTAH

 (Agency)

0-AR-4637

_____

DECISION

June 2, 2010

_____

Before the Authority:  Carol Waller Pope, Chairman, and

Thomas M. Beck and Ernest DuBester, Members

I.          Statement of the Case

            This matter is before the Authority on an exception to an award of Arbitrator Barbara Bridgewater filed by the Union under § 7122(a) of the Federal Service       Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority’s Regulations.  The Agency filed an opposition to the Union’s exception. 

            The Arbitrator awarded the grievant three hours of compensatory time off but denied his request for n award of attorney fees under Back Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. § 5596 (BPA).  For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the basis for the denial of fees is deficient, and we remand the award to the parties for resubmission to the Arbitrator, absent settlement, for a resolution of the attorney-fee request.

II.        Background and Arbitrator’s Award

The Union filed a grievance protesting the Agency’s denial of the grievant’s request for compensatory time off for time spent in a travel status.[1]  The grievance was not resolved and was submitted to arbitration.  The Arbitrator concluded that the grievant was entitled to compensatory time off and awarded him three hours of compensatory time off.  However, she denied the grievant’s request for an award of attorney fees under the BPA on the basis that the award of compensatory time off did not constitute “pay, allowance[s,] or differential[s]” within the meaning of the BPA.  Award at 8.

III.       Positions of the Parties

A.        Union’s Exception

            The Union contends that the basis for the denial of the request for attorney fees is contrary to the BPA.  In particular, the Union asserts that the award of compensatory time off constitutes “pay, allowances, or differentials” within the meaning of the BPA similar to awards of administrative leave, annual leave, or sick leave.  Exception at 2.  In this regard, the Union claims that the Authority has specifically held that awards of paid leave satisfy the requirement of the BPA that the grievant be awarded backpay to be eligible for an award of attorney fees.  Id. at 3-4 (citing NAGE, Local R4-6, 52 FLRA 1522 (1997) (NAGE); Nat’l Gallery of Art, Wash., D.C., 48 FLRA 841 (1993); U.S. Dep’t of the Air Force, Aerospace Guidance & Metrology Ctr., Newark Air Force Base, Ohio,

41 FLRA 550 (1991)).

B.                 Agency’s Opposition

The Agency contends that the Arbitrator correctly denied the request for fees because an award of compensatory time off is not an award of pay, allowances, or differentials.  Additionally, the Agency claims that the denial of the request for fees was warranted because the grievant was not the prevailing party.

IV.       The award is contrary to the BPA.

When an exception to an arbitration award challenges an award’s consistency with law, we review the question of law raised by the exception and the award de novo.  E.g., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Rural Dev., Wash., D.C., 60 FLRA 527, 529 (2004) (Dep’t of Agric.).  In applying a standard of de novo review, we assess whether the arbitrator’s legal conclusions are consistent with the applicable standard of law.  Id.

For a grievant to be eligible for an award of attorney fees under the BPA, an arbitrator must award the grievant backpay upon finding under applicable law, rule, regulation, or collective bargaining agreement that the grievant was affected by an unjustified or unwarranted perso