The Amalgamated Transit Union has filed a grievance against Utah Transit Authority, claiming the company forced two employees to resign from their jobs before they left for military duty in the Persian Gulf.

"Families and employees have enough to worry about without wondering if their resignation will in some way take away job security," said Dan Butterfield, president of the union's Local 382.But UTA said the employees are guaranteed their jobs, benefits, raises and seniority upon their return. "The last thing we want is for these employees to worry about their jobs here," said Jerry Benson, UTA manager of personnel and labor relations.

But Butterfield contends the company put that worry into the employees by burdening them with the option of resigning. He said the workers were forced to resign because of a company policy requiring employees who take a leave of absence to apply for an extension once the leave is up or else face termination.

"The petty actions taken in relation to these employees are absurd," Butterfield said. "We believe that UTA's actions are both callous and spiteful, if not outright illegal."

UTA acknowledges the policy but also notes federal law overrides it or any labor contract. Benson said that if an employee called up for military duty fails to apply for an extension, UTA is still obligated to employ that person upon returning from duty.

That only confuses the union, however, which can't understand why the option to resign is offered if the leave of absence policy is essentially the same thing.

"The company has been caught. I believe there are some ulterior motives, but I don't know what they are," Butterfield said.

But Benson said the only motive was to save time and trouble for both sides. He explained that the resignation option was encouraged because it cut out the hassle for an employee to apply for an extension as well as the company's obligation to find the whereabouts of an employee on leave who didn't apply for an extension.

Four UTA employees are serving in the Middle East; two of them resigned before leaving and two took leaves of absence. Benson said the pair who opted to resign expected to be overseas for an extended period and didn't know when they could return to work. "They were aware they would be treated the same," Benson said. "I am sure they wouldn't have resigned if they felt they were giving something up."

Benson noted that he believes Butterfield is upset because none of the employees who took leave consulted with the union on their decision.

Butterfield confirmed that he heard of the resignations from another driver. But when he contacted the family of one of the employees he found them concerned about the uncertainty of his employment with UTA.

But Benson said the families were assured earlier and Butterfield just confused them. "We will be sending out letters to the families again, and if they want their status changed to a leave of absence, we will do that."