Reviews complete, hearings set on 37.5-hour work week

March 27, 2015

BURNABY — The Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) has completed a review of member grievances surrounding the 37.5-hour work week and has determined which of those grievances can move forward.

Members with grievances that fall strictly under categories 1, 2, 3 or 5 (reduction of hours) have already been withdrawn as ordered by arbitrators Bell and Ready. For grievances that involve process violations (categories 4 & 6), mediation/arbitration days have been scheduled for June 11-12. These will address issues at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (CUPE Local 15) and the BC Cancer Agency. If the arbitrators are unable to help the parties reach a resolution on these grievances, they will issue a binding decision determining whether the VCHA violated the agreement. As previously advised, further dates are scheduled through the end of 2015.

The 37.5 hour work week was first proposed by the Health Employers Association of BC during bargaining in 2013. Other unions, either through their respective bargaining associations or as a result of imposed legislation, had already reverted to it. Although not without some benefits (the 37.5-hour work week increased employees’ real incomes without increasing wage rates), the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association was effectively given no choice but to follow it.

The HSPBA worked hard to negotiate the best possible outcome for members under these circumstances. By agreeing to the 37.5-hour work week, however, the bargaining association never agreed that nine-day fortnights or other extended hours schedules could be eliminated at the employers’ discretion. The HSPBA rejected this interpretation at every turn. The collective agreement specifically states that employers must work with employees and the union to ensure a smooth transition.

Unfortunately, once the 37.5-hour work week for HSPBA members took effect on September 1, 2013, some employers chose to believe that they could simply eliminate earned days off at their discretion. HSPBA disagreed, and more than 1,200 grievances were filed over the course of that fall and into 2014. CUPE filed a significant number of those grievances on behalf of members impacted by the implementation.

The first six months after implementation were mostly consumed by unsuccessful discussions about grievances between employer and union reps, but the parties did come to agreement about the key issues involved. During three days of hearings in March 2014, these threshold issues were brought before arbitrators Vince Ready and Corinne Bell for consideration. The resulting decision provided guidelines about how the process should have gone, and what was – and was not – allowed.

This decision clarified that employers were required to consider proposals from employees and, where not accepted, to explain why these suggestions should not be implemented. In a disappointing ruling for the union, the decision also made it clear that employers were allowed to reduce the hours of work for part-time staff, although seniority was a labour relations “consideration” in these decisions.

Following the April 2014 decision, some grievances on process issues were resolved as were issues related to lay-offs and reduction. However, HEABC and HSPBA remained fundamentally deadlocked over what the arbitrators meant by stating that seniority was a “consideration”. HEABC has interpreted this to imply that all grievances about a reduction in hours are now dismissed. HSPBA did not agree with that interpretation.

On October 30, the arbitrators issued a clarification on the issue of reduced hours for part-time workers: unless there is also an issue of process, employers are allowed to reduce part-time hours and the grievances will not succeed where reduction of hours is the only issue at hand. HSPBA did not anticipate that a collaborative approach to changing schedules would reduce hours for part-timers, but the arbitrators have ruled against the union’s position.

Since that decision, HSPBA has been working to get resolution wherever possible. The bargaining association also conducted a review of all grievances based on reduction of hours to see if there were grounds to continue to advance them.

CUPE represents 725 members under the HSPBA represented in CUPE Locals 15, 1978 and 4816. The Health Sciences Association is the lead union in the 17,000-member bargaining association. The other unions in the bargaining group are HEU, BCGEU, and PEA.