Arbitration ruling safeguards regional job posting language won in 1998

Employer bid to create two-tier rights rejected HEU and its facility sector union bargaining association partners have won the first major skirmish over interpretation of important new contract language from the 1998 agreement after arbitrator Stephen Kelleher rejected the employer's bid to narrow the application of Article 16.06 on the regional job posting process. Kelleher's recent ruling in the dispute protects the rights of health care workers across the province to bid on jobs within their immediate health region or community health council. That right, which significantly expands work opportunities for members, was heralded by the unions as a major gain in the last round of bargaining. Article 16 sets out a seven-step process for filling job vacancies. It gives first rights to regular employees and casuals with more than 2,400 hours of seniority who work at the facility where the vacancy is posted. Then it grants posting rights and security protections to displaced employees first within the community health council or regional board, then within the broader region, and finally within the province. Next eligible are casuals at the facility with fewer than 2,400 hours of seniority. And then comes the 16.06 posting provision: the right of employees within the community council or health region to bid on vacancies before the employer hires off the street. At the August hearing before Kelleher, the unions argued that the new posting language provides employees the right to apply for postings that are unfilled after the first five steps of article 16 at the facilities in the geographic region of the community health council or regional board. The Health Employers Association of B.C. argued instead that the regional posting provision applied only to direct employees of the community council or regional board, and not for employees in facilities contracted to provide services by the council or board. Itís a position that would have created two tiers of employees when it came to posting rights. While Kelleher says his decision in the unions' favour was a "close call," he noted that the employers' position would mean that article 16.06 would have no application at all for close to 20,000 union members working for facilities in the Vancouver Richmond health region because the board contract contracts with health care facilities to provide all health services in the region. "In my view the more natural meaning of 'employees in' the Vancouver Richmond Regional Health Board is that the staff of St. Paul's Hospital or Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre are such employees," said Kelleher.