#5 Arbitration board says Quesnel employer violated collective agreement

Bargaining bulletin

Closure of mental health unit during limited job action meant workers were laid off

With collective bargaining now underway in the community and facility health subsectors, arbitration board chair John Kinzie has handed a significant victory to HEU and the other health care unions negotiating their contracts this year.

In late November 1998 BCNU was backing up collective bargaining demands with an overtime ban and working to rule. At that time, in the absence of any picket line and with no consultation with any of its unions, G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel closed its Quess mental health unit and told three HEU members not to report to work.

HEU said this was an infringement of the Essential Services Agreement and that the workers were laid off in violation of the collective agreement. The employer countered that they were only complying with previous directions from former associate chair of mediation Brian Foley to speed up their efforts in moving towards the levels set out in the essential services plans. They added that a BCNU steward had indicated that hospitals would soon be behind picket lines.

In the board’s unanimous opinion, Foley was not directing the employer to go immediately to essential services and staffing levels. That would indeed be contravening the Essential Services Agreement which states that the necessary precondition for the implementation of the final step of the agreement is a “work stoppage”.

The arbitration ruling said the grievors were laid off in violation of their collective agreement and awarded them compensation for lost wages and benefits. “This decision sends a clear message to health care employers,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “A threat to picket is not enough to trigger the final steps of essential services levels. There has to be a full work stoppage, period.

“And even when there is a strike, the employer cannot unilaterally go to those final steps without the participation of the unions.”