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Union-represented state employees not entitled to additional pay for walk time but unrepresented employees might be

By Ronald Miller, J.D.

Union-represented employees expressly agreed to a specific amount of compensation, so they were not entitled to extra pay for duty-integrated walk time. However, unrepresented supervisory employees may be entitled to additional pay for such time.

Corrections officers represented by a union could not pursue claims for duty-integrated walk time for the period when a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was in effect, ruled the California Supreme Court. The represented employees explicitly bargained for a specific amount of compensation for this time, and they did not allege that the state failed to pay the agreed-upon amount. However, unrepresented supervisory employees may be entitled to additional compensation for duty-integrated walk time, since such time squarely fell within the definition of compensable work time set forth in the state’s “Pay Scale Manual.” However, neither subclass of employees was entitled to additional pay for entry-exit walk time. Justice Liu, joined by Justice Cuellar, filed a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part (Stoetzl v. Department of Human Resources, July 1, 2019, Chin, M.).

Walk time claims. Corrections officers employed by the State of California filed a collective action alleging that they were entitled to additional compensation for time spent on pre- and post-work activities, including traveling from the outermost gate of the prison facility to their work posts within the facility, traveling back from their work posts, being briefed before the start of a shift, briefing relief staff at the end of shift, checking out and checking in mandated safety equipment, putting on and removing such equipment, and submitting to searches at various security checkpoints within the facility. They asserted that the employer violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay contractual overtime; failed to pay minimum wages; failure to keep accurate records; and failed to pay contractual overtime in breach of common law.

The trial court divided the class into two subclasses, one for supervisory employees who were not represented by a union, and the other for union-represented employees.

Regulatory schemes. This case involved a conflict between two regulatory schemes. California Wage Order No. 4 regulates the minimum wage the state must pay its rank-and-file employees and broadly defines compensable work. At the same time, the state’s Pay Scale Manual sets forth the regular and overtime compensation the state must pay to certain classes of employees (including the plaintiffs here), and expressly adopts the FLSA’s narrower definition of compensable work.

“First principal activity” standard. The trial court ruled in favor of the employer on the employees’ walk time claims. As to the represented employees, the trial court concluded that the “first principal activity” standard that defines compensable work for purposes of the FLSA governed their claims. The trial court based its conclusion on the language of the MOUs, testimonial evidence that the parties agreed during negotiations to adopt that standard, and the fact that the MOUs were approved by the legislature, thus superseding conflicting laws of more general application. Accordingly, the trial court disposed of the employees’ minimum wage cause of action.

As to the unrepresented employees, the trial court concluded that, by assigning various job classifications to Work Week Group 2, the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) had determined that those job classifications should be governed by the FLSA, specifically, the “first principal activity” standard. The trial court further rejected the employees’ argument that CalHR’s use of the word “control” in the Pay Scale Manual’s definition of compensable work indicated an intent to incorporate the “control” standard that is used to define compensable work time under the state’s wage orders.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court as to the represented employees, but reversed as to the unrepresented employees. The appeals court concluded that Wage Order No. 4’s broad definition of compensable work time governed the state’s obligation to pay the minimum wage to the unrepresented employees. Both sides petitioned for review.

Walk-time compensation. The California Supreme Court was called upon to consider the compensability of two types of pre- and post-work activities. The first is the time an employee spends arriving at the prison’s outermost gate, plus time at the end of the employee’s work shift: “entry-exit walk time.” The second is the time an employee spends after beginning the first activity but before the employee arrives at his assigned post and at the end of the work shift: “duty-integrated walk time.”

Union-represented employees. The California Supreme Court concluded that the subclass of represented employees expressly agreed under the CBA to a specific amount of compensation for duty-integrated walk time, and there was no allegation that the state failed to pay the agreed-upon amount. Further, the state high court observed that the CBA constituted the entire understanding of the parties and so precluded other forms of compensation, such as compensation for entry-exit walk time. Those agreements were approved by the legislature, signed by the governor and chaptered into law.

Unrepresented employees. However, the state high court concluded that the subclass of unrepresented employees may be entitled to additional compensation for duty-integrated walk time. The terms and conditions governing their employment were determined by CalHR and set forth in the Pay Scale Manual. The pay manual defined compensable work time for purposes of calculating an employee’s right to regular overtime compensation, and duty-integrated walk time fell squarely within that definition, observed the high court. Consequently, if the state did not take duty-integrated walk time into consideration when calculating the compensation owed to the unrepresented employees, then those employees may be entitled to additional pay.

By contrast, entry-exit walk time did not fall within the Pay Scale Manual’s definition of compensable work time. Because the Pay Scale Manual comprehensively addressed the question of compensation for unrepresented employees, it precluded compensation for any work that fell outside the scope of its definition. Therefore, insofar as the unrepresented employees were seeking compensation for entry-exit walk time, their claims were rejected.

Partial dissent. In an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Liu, joined by Justice Cuellar, disagreed with the majority’s rejection of the represented and unrepresented employees’ minimum-wage claims for entry-exit walk time. He observed that 2001 revisions to the Industrial Welfare Commission’s (IWC) Wage Order No. 4-2001 extended minimum-wage protections to rank-and-file employees of the state government. Specifically the revisions extended the state’s broad definition of compensable work to the represented employees. Because there was no clear indication that the represented employees agreed to forego that right in the relevant MOUs, the dissent would allow their minimum-wage claims to proceed.

Similarly, the dissent would allow the unrepresented employees to pursue minimum-wage compensation for entry-exit walk under the wage order.