Nineteen juvenile justice detention officers in Benton and Franklin counties will share $49,300 to settle a claim they were not provided scheduled lunch breaks as mandated by a union contract.
The agreement, approved by commissioners in both counties, resolves a 15-month-old grievance filed by the Teamsters Local 839 of Pasco and ensures the detention officers will have their 30 minutes for lunch every five hours as required by state law, said Russell Shjerven, union business representative.
Sixteen officers who have worked more than three years will collect $2,800 each, while three others with less experience will get $1,500 each.
Sharon Paradis, Benton Franklin Juvenile Justice administrator, said the detention officers always have been allowed to take meal breaks, but the nature of the job sometimes meant the breaks could be interrupted if necessary.
"We've had intermittent meal breaks," Paradis said, adding that the practice goes back more than a decade.
But Shjerven said it is unacceptable to interrupt meal breaks, even if it is to respond to an emergency in a juvenile custody situation.
"It has to be time away from work. And it's a paid meal break," he said.
Shjerven said detention workers came to him in January 2011 saying they weren't getting their 30-minute breaks. He followed up by filing a grievance. It took a year before arbitration hearings were scheduled.
A settlement agreement was reached before the first hearing was held.
The dispute about meal breaks also led the counties to issue a policy in March 2011 that restricted nonwork activity to happen only during meal and rest breaks. This included smoking, reading, using the bathroom and personal phone calls.
The union responded by filing a complaint of unfair labor practice, alleging the new policy violated the labor contract.
The unfair labor claim was resolved seven months later when the counties withdrew the policy, replacing it with less stringent guidelines that require meal breaks to be scheduled and done in a designated break room.
The settlement for $49,300 is supposed to be issued the first week in July.