BEFORE THE ARBITRATOR
In the Matter of the Arbitration of a Dispute Between
NORTHWEST UNITED EDUCATORS
UNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Mr. Kenneth J. Berg, Executive Director, for Northwest United
Mr. Richard J. Ricci, Attorney, for the District.
Under the terms of their contract, the parties asked the
Relations Commission to assign a member of its staff to act as arbitrator over an insurance
grievance. I was assigned to the case.
Hearing was held in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin, on May 14, 1997. No transcript was
made of the hearing and the parties filed briefs, the last of which was received June 25,
The parties agreed that the issue I am to decide is:
Did the District violate the collective bargaining agreement by
denying health insurance
benefits to an employe who is regularly scheduled for less than 20 hours per week? If so,
what is the remedy?
ARTICLE XVII - INSURANCE
The District agrees to pay toward health plan coverage for
employees pursuant to the
A. Twelve-month full-time employees:
Twelve-month full-time employees receiving
health insurance shall pay $25.00 per month toward the family premium and $10 per month
toward the single premium. The level of benefits for 1996-98 shall remain the same as in
during the 1987-88 school year.
B. All other eligible employees
working twenty or more hours per week may elect to
participate in the family or single plan coverage with the Board contributing on a pro rata
equal to the ratio of hours worked by the employee in the previous year to 1600 hours except
employees in their first year with the District, working twenty (20) or more hours per week,
elect to participate in the family or single health plan coverage at the completion of their
probationary period with the Board contributing on a pro rata basis equal to the number of
worked by employes versus the number of hours a twelve (12) month full-time employee
have been compensated in the probationary period.
The parties' dispute boils down to the question of whether health insurance eligibility
determined by: (1) the number of hours an employe is working during the school year in
coverage is requested, or (2) the average number of hours the employe worked during the
year prior to the year coverage is requested.
Each party correctly notes that for the contract language to clearly reflect the
opponent would give it, words need to be added to the contract. NUE cites the absence of
word "scheduled" from the disputed contract language when attacking the District's position.
District counters by noting that the words "averaging" and "previous year" are not found in
line of Article XVII (B). While both parties are correct that the language is not a model of
I find the language nonetheless provides an adequate basis for determining the parties' intent
to insurance eligibility.
In my view, the difference in meaning between "working" and "worked" resolves this
"Working" refers to the present; "worked" refers to the past. Article XVII (B) uses the
"working" when it speaks to the issue of eligibility. Thus, employes
workingtwenty or more
hours at the time they seek health coverage are eligible for coverage under Article XVII (B).
hours they worked in the prior year are not relevant to their eligibility. Because
"working" is a
present time concept, the average number of hours worked (which
requires a look to the past) is
also irrelevant to eligibility. Again, it is how much the employe is working
when they seek the
benefit which is determinative.
How should the amount an employe is presently working be measured? It can be
that the number of hours the employe actually works the week of the request for coverage is
answer. However, such an approach would have eligibility turn on the happenstance of
an employe performed extra assignments that week or became ill and missed work. It
highly unlikely the parties would intend such arbitrary results. Instead, the employe's
scheduled weekly hours at the time the benefit is sought is a much more rational, and thus
likely, intention as to how hours will be measured.
Given the foregoing, I am satisfied that an employe who is regularly scheduled for
than 20 hours per week at the time the benefit is sought is not eligible for health insurance
coverage under Article XVII (B).
Dated at Madison, Wisconsin this 22nd day of September, 1997.
Peter G. Davis /s/
Peter G. Davis, Arbitrator