Laundering uniforms not employer’s responsibility

Caretaking employees had to wash own uniforms while security staff had theirs dry-cleaned by employer

A Manitoba university does not have to compensate its caretaking employees for the cost of laundering their uniforms, despite the fact it compensates security staff for such expenses, an arbitrator has ruled.

The University of Manitoba had a clause in its collective agreements with both its caretaking employees and security staff that stated: “The employer may require the employee to wear a uniform or other special article while performing duties and the employer shall provide and maintain same without deduction from the employee’s salary.” The university paid for and arranged for the laundering of security uniforms, but caretaking staff were expected to wash their own.

The union for the caretaking employees filed a grievance claiming the university violated the collective agreement by not following the uniform clause and providing for maintenance of their uniforms. Though the wording of the clauses was the same, the university maintained it was different for security staff because their uniforms required dry cleaning. Caretaking staff had uniforms that were easy to wash at home at little cost. All employees received more uniforms when deemed necessary.

The union also said employees had raised concerns that they didn’t have enough uniforms and they had to be washed more frequently, increasing laundry costs. Some employees also had to do “dirty jobs” which soiled their uniforms more quickly and warranted more washing, particularly since the university required employee uniforms to be “clean and wrinkle free every shift.” This increased laundry cost ultimately resulted in deductions to employee salaries, which was contrary to the collective agreement, said the union.

The union argued caretaking employees should receive additional uniforms and $20 per week to cover costs of washing them, or else the university should take over laundering of uniforms.

The arbitrator noted the collective agreement clearly stated that employees were responsible for the “reasonable care” of their uniform. Regular laundering could be considered part of this care, said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator also found the university had a different arrangement with security staff because the latter’s uniforms required dry cleaning and it would not be a reasonable expectation to have those employees have to look after such tasks on their own. Additionally, food service employees at the university — who were part of the same union as the caretaking staff — had laundered their uniforms for many years without complaint by the union, which established past practice that had been accepted by both sides, said the arbitrator.

In addition, the collective agreement didn’t specify a specific number of uniforms that the university had to provide for employees, nor did it say employees had to purchase extra uniforms. Therefore, there was no requirement for the university to provide any more uniforms than it already did, said the arbitrator.

The grievance in relation to the cost of laundering, alterations and number of uniforms for caretaking employees was dismissed. See University of Manitoba and CAW, Local 3007 (11-15), Re, 2013 CarswellMan 359 (Man. Arb.).

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