How employers handle union leave

It’s a common provision in collective agreements, but it’s not always straightforward
By Lorna Harris
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/20/2006

Global Television was anticipating a busy two weeks in mid-October 2004. It was time for one of the all important semi-annual ratings surveys. No vacation was allowed during ratings season. However, the union requested leave for two of its members to go to its annual meeting. The company refused, and the union meeting had to be cancelled for lack of a quorum.

The union grieved, but the arbitrator sided with Global. In such a critical situation as ratings weeks, management was reasonably concerned that lack of staff would harm its ability to “produce attractive programming.” It was well within its rights to withhold permission for such leave.

Union leave, as provided for in most collective agreements, typically refers to a leave of absence for union officials, whether to represent the union at arbitration hearings, attend a union training session or convention, take up position as a full-time officer of the parent union, attend bargaining and negotiation sessions or conduct other union activities. There is often a clause dealing with union leave near the start of a collective agreement under the heading “union security.”