Appeals Court Reiterates Vacation Time Accrued Under the Terms of a Contract is Protected by the Wage Act

On May 14, 2024, the Appeals Court issued a summary decision in Convey v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts & another, 22-P-930, holding that vacation time accrued under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) constituted “wages” protected by the Wage Act and, therefore, could not be bargained away by the Union.

The plaintiff, an adult education teacher employed by the Department of Correction (“DOC”), was represented by a Union in labor negotiations with the defendants. Those negotiations culminated in a CBA (2016 CBA), which provided for a forty-week school year and a summer vacation. Prior to the expiration of the 2016 CBA and the start of the 2016 – 2017 school year, the union and the defendants executed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) eliminating the summer vacation time for the summer of 2017. The parties subsequently agreed to a new CBA (2017 CBA) that incorporated this change. In response, the plaintiff initiated an action on behalf of herself and similarly situated employees under the Massachusetts Wage Act (G.L. c. 149, §§ 148, 150) arguing that they had been denied earned wages due to them on a prorated basis from July 1 to September 6, 2017 – the period of the summer vacation. On cross motions for summary judgment, a judge of the Superior Court granted summary judgment for the defendants DOC and Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

After de novo review of the grant of summary judgment, the Appeals Court vacated the Superior Court judgment. The Appeals Court explained that the purpose of the Wage Act is to provide strong statutory protection for employees and their right to wages. The term “wages” includes holiday or vacation payments due to an employee under an oral or written agreement. While under G.L. 150E, unions are the exclusive representative of all employees for the purposes of collective bargaining, the statutory right to the timely payment of wages does not involve the collective rights of employees. The Appeals Court reasoned that in this case the plaintiffs completed the work required of them under the terms of the 2016 CBA, therefore, the vacation promised under the 2016 CBA became protected under the Wage Act as wages earned by them. The Wage Act expressly prohibits “special contracts,” which are contracts that require an employee to forfeit earned wages. Accordingly, the Union was not empowered to bargain away the plaintiff’s individual rights to vacation time. To the extent the Union abrogated the plaintiffs’ right to earned wages under the MOU and 2017 CBA, such agreements were unenforceable as a proscribed “special contracts.”

As a summary decision, Convey is not binding precedent, nevertheless it is an important reminder that under the Massachusetts Wage Act, vacation time due under a contract counts as “wages,” the individual rights to which cannot be forfeited by a Union during labor negotiations.

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This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.