STEVEN M. LABRIE
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING and TEAMSTERS LOCAL 251
County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Joseph F. Penza, Jr., Esq.
Defendant: Bernard P. Healy, Esq. Marc B. Gursky, Esq.
above-captioned matter is before the Court on an appeal of a
decision of the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and
Training (DLT). The DLT found the Plaintiff/Appellant Steven
M. Labrie (Mr. Labrie or Plaintiff/Appellant) eligible to
receive payment for unused vacation time only for the year
2013, and not for the accumulation of time for the years 2008
through 2012, which Plaintiff/Appellant had originally
sought. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 §
is a former business agent with Teamsters Local 251 (Union or
Local 251). He was employed by Local 251 from 1995 until
2013, serving first as a trustee, then as an assistant
business agent, and finally from 2000 until 2013 as a
business agent. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in
October of 2013, and he thus separated from the Union when
his term ended on December 31, 2013. He requested that he be
paid for the vacation time that he did not use for the years
2008 through 2013. Plaintiff/Appellant maintains that he is
entitled to be paid for vacation time from all years that he
did not use all of the vacation time that he accrued, such
years being 2008 through 2013. He submitted a request that he
be paid for his unused vacation time, which he believed at
the time to be ninety-seven days. He later calculated that he
had accumulated 122.5 days of vacation time.
Plaintiff/Appellant asserts that under the vacation policy
enacted in 2005, when vacation time is not "paid
out" the following year, it accumulates until the
employee ceases to be employed by the Union, at which time
the employee must be paid for all unused vacation time.
the Union contends that pursuant to the Union policy in
effect at the time Plaintiff/Appellant separated from Local
251, he was only entitled to be paid for unused vacation time
accrued the prior year - 2013. The Union argues that the
language in the 2005 amendments to the vacation time policy
supports the proposition that while vacation time accumulates
from year to year, vacation pay can only be distributed the
year following the year in which it was earned.
filed a complaint with the DLT on January 14, 2014.
See Pl.'s Compl. He initially sought payment for
ninety-seven unused vacation days. He subsequently amended
his complaint to seek payment for 122.5 days. See
Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 9.
duly-noticed hearing was held pursuant to G.L. 1956 §
28-14-19. This hearing was conducted by the DLT over the
course of two days: July 7 and August 25, 2014.
first called Sharon Frye, the bookkeeper for Local 251. She
testified that Mr. Joseph Bairos, who served as
secretary-treasurer of Local 251, asked her to calculate the
number of unused vacation hours that had been accrued by
several former officers who were separated from the Union in
2013, including the Plaintiff/Appellant. Tr. 17-18, July 7,
2014 (Tr. I). Plaintiff/Appellant entered into evidence a
document (Complainant's Ex. 1) prepared by Ms. Frye that
calculated the amount of vacation time that the
aforementioned officers had taken in the years 2009 through
2013. Mr. Bairos had requested that she do so because he had
learned that one or more of the recently separated officers
planned to seek payment for unused time for years prior to
2013. Tr. I at 17. Matthew Taibi, the secretary-treasurer of
Local 251, thereafter acknowledged receiving a letter from
Plaintiff/Appellant dated May 10, 2014 requesting
documentation of the amount of vacation time he had taken
from 2008 through 2013. Mr. Taibi testified that because he
was aware the matter was in litigation, he forwarded the
request to the legal counsel of the Union. Id. at
testified that he started working for Local 251 as an elected
trustee in 1995. Id. at 26-27. He was appointed to
the positon of assistant business agent in 1997, and he was
elected to the position of business agent in October 2000.
Id. at 27. Mr. Labrie testified that he received a
salary during the time that he served as a business agent,
and he was given a W2 for tax purposes each year.
Id. at 27-28. Mr. Labrie identified a document that
explained the vacation policy enacted in 2004
(Complainant's Ex. 3), and he identified a document that
explained the vacation policy that was enacted in 2005
(Complainant's Ex. 4). Tr. I at 29-31. He explained that
he understood the vacation policy enacted in 2005 provided
"the option of getting paid out at the end of the year,
or not getting paid out and carrying over until you leave
office, for whenever you leave office it will be paid
out." Id. at 31. He recognized that the amount
of vacation time that he took in 2013 was initially
overreported by fourteen hours (two days), and he explained
the discrepancy by stating that the other officers used two
days of vacation time in 2013 to campaign for reelection, and
he did not campaign because of "a disability as far as
walking around[.]" Id. at 33. He further
testified that after his term as business agent ended in
December 2013, he attended a meeting of Local 251 on January
26, 2014, addressing the issue of unused vacation time of
Union officers. Id. at 33-34. It was determined that
going forward, officers could no longer be paid for unused
vacation time. Id. at 34-35.
original complaint, Plaintiff/Appellant was seeking to be
paid for ninety-seven hours of unused vacation time, not
including the aforementioned two days that were in dispute or
the unused time for 2008. Id. at 38. He further
testified that he used "[j]ust under three weeks"
of vacation in 2008. Id. at 38-39. Addressing the
issue of officers departing from the Union, he stated that
before 2004, "elected officials would have, for every
[year] of service they would get a week's pay, vacation
or week's pay . . . . when they left their office, when
they left service, they would get one week's vacation pay
for every year of service." Id. at 40-41. He
confirmed that the policy for departing officers and their
vacation time, as referenced above, changed in 2004 and again
in 2005. Id. at 41.
testified that employees of the Union with more than
twenty-five years of service "are entitled to six
weeks' vacation, " and "that's been going
on a long time." Id. at 46. According to
Plaintiff/Appellant, whenever he took vacation time, he would
receive the same paycheck that he would receive in other
weeks, and he "didn't get a separate line item for
vacation that changed[.]" Id. at 51. He
confirmed that the documentation from the Union
(Resp't's Ex. 2) indicated that he took "twelve
days and fourteen hours [of vacation] in 2013, " though
he is disputing the fourteen hours. Tr. I at 54. He further
confirmed that during 2013, for the weeks during which he
used vacation time, he received his "regular paycheck[,
] even though [he was] claiming it as a vacation day[.]"
Id. at 55. Plaintiff/Appellant further testified
that he was seeking to be paid for unused vacation time for
the years 2009 through 2013. Id. at 59.
to Plaintiff/Appellant, he was not seeking payment for any
vacation time for the years 2005-2006 because he
"didn't carryover" any time at the end of those
years. Id. He further testified that at the end of
2007, he was "paid out" for the time he did not
use. Id. According to Plaintiff/Appellant, he
contacted Ms. Frye regarding the discrepancy between the time
the Union believed he had taken in 2013 and the time he
recalls having taken, and this discrepancy was due to an
apparent misunderstanding regarding whether he had used two
days of vacation for campaigning in October of that year.
Id. at 74-75.
Bairos, who served as secretary-treasurer for Local 251 until
December 31, 2013, also testified. Mr. Bairos explained that
he and the other officers seeking election were charged
fourteen hours of vacation time for campaigning, and he
directed Ms. Frye to record that time for each officer.
Id. at 78. He later learned that Plaintiff/Appellant
was contesting that time, alleging that his disability caused
him not to participate in campaigning. He agreed with
Plaintiff/Appellant that he should not have been charged for
the fourteen hours in dispute for 2013. Id.
Bairos confirmed that prior to 1995, officers "leaving
the employ of Local 251" would receive "a
week's pay, a vacation pay for every year of
service." Id. at 79. He testified that after
1995 and prior to the changes that were made in 2004, the
policy was that officers could carry forward up to one-half
of the vacation time they received each year. Id. at
80. Then, in 2005, the vacation policy for officers of Local
251 was again changed to the policy that the parties agree
was in effect at the time that Plaintiff/Appellant separated
from the Union in 2013. Mr. Bairos testified that under this
policy there were no limitations on the amount of unused
vacation time that could be carried over, and that an officer
could carry "up to your six weeks if you didn't take
any time, you could carry six weeks over." Id.
In response to questioning as to whether, under this policy,
officers had the option of being paid for unused vacation
time at the end of the year, he responded, "You could,
but no one took it, they just kept carrying it over."
Id. at 81.
Bairos further testified that following his separation from
the Union on December 31, 2013, he was paid for the unused
vacation time that he accrued in 2013. Id. at 84. He
confirmed that he was not paid for any unused vacation time
for any previous years. Id. at 86-87. When asked if
he sought to be paid for unused vacation time for previous
years following his separation from the Union, Mr. Bairos
responded that he did not:
"[A]t that particular time because we were still in the
midst of a protest and we hadn't gotten a decision from
the Department of Labor, the Federal Department of Labor,
once we got that decision then I made a claim for those other
years. Once they ruled that we would not get a re-election
that (sic) I made the claim for the previous years."
Id. at 87.
Bairos also testified that, in November 2013, he removed Ms.
Linda Russolino from her position as an appointed business
agent. Id. at 92-93. According to Mr. Bairos, she
received, upon her separation, a check for her vacation time
that she did not use in 2013, and she was not paid for any
other unused vacation time. Id. at 93. The Hearing
Officer inquired as to whether "she was only paid for
those unused vacation days from 2013 because she didn't
request the vacation, her other unused vacation days from
those previous years, " to which Mr. Bairos responded in
the affirmative. Id. at 101. He elaborated that the
issue of whether employees are entitled to be paid for unused
vacation time from prior years "had never came up until
2013." Id. He could not recall any departing
employee "who received a lump sum payment of vacation
pay based on their accrued time going back, 5, 6, 7
years[.]" Id. at 102. Rather, he confirmed that
"when people knew they were going to leave during the
calendar year . . . . they would use up their time during the
year and then leave at the end[.]" Id. at
102-03. Mr. Bairos testified that he did not make a claim for
his unused vacation time at the same time as Mr. Labrie
because he was contesting the results of the October 2013
election "hoping that it would get overturned, "
and, if it were, he "would still be an employee of the
local carrying that time over." Id. at 103.
Jerry Blinkhorn, a former officer of Local 251, next
testified. First elected to be a business agent in 1977, he
later served as secretary-treasurer, a position in which he
served until his retirement in 1995. Id. at 104. He
explained that at the time of his retirement, an officer who
retired from the Union would receive "[o]ne week's
pay for every year that we were there, [as] an officer."
Id. at 105. According to Mr. Blinkhorn, there was,
at that time, no official policy regarding the carrying of
vacation time. Id. Mr. Blinkhorn testified that on
two occasions, once in 1990 and once in 1992, he received
Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) benefits when he was
unable to work due to heart problems. He further testified
that during the time he was collecting TDI benefits, he also
received his regular salary from the Union. Id. at
105-06. According to Mr. Blinkhorn, when he retired from the
Union, the time during which he was receiving TDI benefits
was not deducted from his service time for purposes of
calculating his severance pay. Id. at 106.
James Croce next testified for the Plaintiff/Appellant. In
2005, he was a vice-president at Local 251, and at that time,
had held that position for less than one year. Id.
at 109. He was at the September 2005 meeting at which the
officers changed the vacation policy to that which was in
effect when Mr. Labrie separated from the Union in 2013.
Id. Mr. Croce further testified that prior to the
aforementioned meeting in 2005, the policy of the Union was
that officers could carry forward unused vacation time of up
to one-half of the time to which they were entitled for a
particular year. Id. at 110. He confirmed that the
policy was changed in 2005 to allow Union officers to carry
forward all unused vacation time. Id. at 111. Mr.
Croce was also present at the January 2014 meeting at which
it was decided that officers of the Union would no longer be
allowed to carry forward unused vacation time. Id.
at 112. According to Mr. Croce, Mr. Labrie inquired as to
whether the Union planned to apply the new policy
retroactively, and he (Mr. Labrie) was told that the Union
did not have any such plan. Id.
cross-examination, Mr. Croce confirmed that the position of
vice-president was a part-time position, and that he became
an assistant business agent (a full-time position) in April
2009, a position he held until December 31, 2013.
Id. at 113-14. Following his separation from the
Union, he received a payment for unused vacation time that he
accrued in 2013. Id. at 114. He elaborated that on
January 31, 2014, he received a payment for 116 hours of
unused time from 2013. Id. at 115. In 2013, he was
entitled to twenty-five vacation days per year, of which he
took eight. Id. at 116. He confirmed that though he
did not use all of his vacation time in either 2011 or 2012,
he received payment in January 2014 only for his unused 2013
vacation time. Id. at 120. He further testified that
he did not file a complaint regarding his not being paid for
unused time from 2011 and 2012 because he "just
didn't feel like going through the process."
Id. at 121.
next witness called by the Plaintiff/Appellant was Mr. James
Boyajian, who had served Local 251 as a business agent and as
president before retiring in December 1995. Tr. at 131,
August 25, 2014 (Tr. II). He testified that on two occasions
"in the 70's maybe the early 80's, " he
received Workers' Compensation benefits, and he also
received his regular salary during that time. Id. at
135-36. Mr. Boyajian further testified that when he left the
Union in December 1995, the Union "didn't have
anything in writing as far as vacation." Id. at
136. However, his "understanding was that" upon
separation from the Union, he "would get a week's
pay and I considered vacation or a week's pay for every
year I served. When I left I get 24 weeks' pay" and
"a Cadillac." Id. at 136-37.
251 then called Mr. Douglas Teoli, who served as an assistant
business agent from 2003 or 2004 until 2013. Id. at
141-42. According to Mr. Teoli, when he sought approval for
vacation time, he would submit the request either to Mr.
Bairos (principal officer of Local 251) or to Ms. Frye
(bookkeeper for Local 251). Id. at 143. He
identified an exhibit presented by Local 251 as a vacation
request form that he submitted on November 1, 2013 for
vacation time that he was requesting for December 2013.
Id. at 143-44. He further testified that subsequent
to his vacation request, he became disabled, and his last day
of work was December 13, 2013, after which he collected TDI
benefits. Id. at 145. He confirmed that some of the
time during which he was collecting TDI benefits overlapped
with time for which he had originally requested vacation
time. Id. at 148. Mr. Teoli also testified that Mr.
Bairos informed him that he could not be paid for vacation
time while collecting TDI benefits, as such a practice would
be considered "double dipping." Id. at
149. When asked if he was paid his regular salary during the
time he was collecting TDI benefits, he responded, "I
don't think I did." Id. at 150. After
making inquiry to the new administration that took office at
the beginning of the year, he did receive vacation pay in
January 2014. Id. at 151. Mr. Teoli testified that
he was present at the 2005 Union meeting at which the
officers of Local 251 voted to modify the vacation pay policy
to permit officers to carry forward, without limit, any
unused vacation time they had not used by the end of the
year. Id. at 153-54. When asked if he participated
in the discussion of this change in policy, he responded,
"No." Id. at 154-55.
Frye, bookkeeper for Local 251, was the next witness called
by Local 251. She testified that she had, at that time, been
employed by Local 251 in that position for seventeen
years-since June 1997. Id. at 160. She confirmed
that she has worked as the bookkeeper under several
administrations, including that of the current
secretary-treasurer, Mr. Matthew Taibi. Id. She also
worked as bookkeeper under the administrations of Mr. Joseph
Bairos and Mr. Stuart Mundy. Id. She testified that
her duties as bookkeeper include "[p]ayroll,
disbursements, [and] record keeping." Id. at
161. According to Ms. Frye, she also collects vacation
requests after they have been approved by a principal
officer, and she would "track what everybody's got
for vacation and make sure at the end of the year
everybody's vacation pay is up to date or if they have
extra what they are carrying over the next day [sic], if they
are carrying over." Id. She testified that in
the seventeen years that she had (as of the time of the
hearing) worked as a bookkeeper for Local 251, she had never
observed any departing employee being paid for any vacation
time other than that accrued in the previous year.
Id. at 161-62.
to Ms. Frye, Union records indicate that Mr. Teoli was
collecting TDI benefits in the latter part of 2013.
Id. at 162. She stated that he did not receive his
regular salary during the last two weeks of 2013 because he
received vacation pay. Id. Ms. Frye further
testified that she is not aware of any employee receiving
vacation pay and their regular salary for the same week.
Id. at 164. She confirmed that prior to the
aforementioned 2005 modifications, the policy allowed Union
officers to be paid for unused vacation time up to a limit of
one-half the officer's vacation time for the year; that
is, an employee entitled to thirty days of vacation could be
paid for a maximum of fifteen days of unused time.
Id. at 166.
Frye testified that during her time as bookkeeper for Local
251, she had, previous to the 2013 election in which
Plaintiff/Appellant (and others) were removed from their
positions, never been asked to calculate unused vacation time
for any years other than the previous year. Id. at
176. She further testified that after the October 2013
election, Mr. Bairos, the departing secretary-treasurer,
asked her to calculate the unused vacation time of the
departing officers dating back to 2009. Id.
According to Ms. Frye, "from 2005 up until the present,
" she did not keep track of vacation time that officers
did not use further back than the prior year. Id. at
177. She elaborated that the accumulated vacation time from
prior years did not appear on any pay stubs, nor did it
appear on annual statements. Id. Ms. Frye testified
that when there was a payout of unused vacation time, the
Union would calculate the amount to be paid out based on the
salary rate of the prior year. Id. at 178. She
explained that she would use the amount that the person was
paid at the beginning of the calendar year "before all
the taxes were maximized." Id. at 179.
Frye addressed the payout for unused vacation time that was
paid to Mr. Teoli upon his separation from the Union at the
end of 2013. She testified that although he had unused
vacation time from 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, he only
requested that he be paid for unused vacation time from 2013.
Id. at 181-82. She confirmed that he did not request
that he be paid for any time prior to 2013, and that she had
never processed a payment for anyone for unused vacation time
that was accrued prior to the previous year. Id. at
respect to the payment for unused vacation time that was paid
to Ms. Linda Russolino following her separation from the
Union in November 2013, Ms. Frye explained the Union paid Ms.
Russolino for her thirteen-and-a-half days of unused vacation
time accrued in 2013 following said separation. Id.
at 184-85. She confirmed that Ms. Russolino did not use all
of the vacation time that she accrued in the years 2009,
2010, 2011, and 2012. Ms. Frye confirmed that the Union did
not pay Ms. Russolino for any unused time for those years,
nor did Ms. Russolino ask to be paid for such ...