Hike in union dues for supervisors derailed

Railway union wanted to more than double dues for opt-in seniority plan for supervisors after strike

A railway company is not required to deduct union dues from workers who refused to pay after the union increased the amount of the dues, an arbitrator has ruled.

Employees for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) who are members of the union, Teamsters Canada, paid regular dues to support the union’s operation. The collective agreement allowed for union members who were promoted by CPR into supervisory positions to continue to accrue their seniority with the union by opting to continue paying dues, even though they were no longer part of the bargaining unit. This provided promoted employees some security in the event of a reorganization or layoff that would lead them to return to the bargaining unit, or if they decide to go back to a job in the bargaining unit. The dues paid by supervisors remained the same as other union members and if they opted not to pay dues, their seniority would be frozen at the time they left the bargaining unit.

During bargaining for a new collective agreement in 2006, the union tried to change the provisions relating to the payment of dues by supervisors. It wanted to put a limit of 12 months on the term supervisors could remain on its seniority lists after taking a supervisory position.

In May 2007, CPR employees went on strike for two months. During the strike, several supervisors, including some who paid dues to the union to keep their seniority, did the work of striking union members. The union felt this prolonged the strike and kept striking employees from earning their wages. The strike was settled in June 2007 and a new collective agreement was reached. However, the union did not get the changes it wanted regarding the seniority of supervisors.

Union sought higher dues from supervisors

Despite the lack of changes to the collective agreement, the union felt supervisors should pay a higher level of dues for the privilege of remaining on its seniority lists. It proposed an amount equal to two-and-one-half times the normal dues paid by regular members to “cover the cost of collective agreement negotiations, of conducting the just concluded strike and future strikes, of the harm and damage done to the bargaining unit by supervisory employees who perform bargaining unit work during a strike while bargaining unit members are receiving no remuneration, and of the general administration and maintenance of the bargaining unit.” This would increase monthly dues for supervisors from $63.31 to $156.55.

The union said the collective agreement allowed changes to be made to the amount of dues deducted to “conform to a change in the amount of regular dues in accordance with (union) constitutional provisions.”

The dues adjustment was put to a vote by union members at the same time as the ratification vote for the new collective agreement. Eighty-four per cent of the union membership voted in favour and the union requested CPR to begin deducting dues at the increased amount from supervisors’ pay on Aug. 14, 2007.

CPR called higher dues punishment for strike actions

CPR refused to deduct the higher dues, arguing it was punishment for supervisors who legitimately performed work it had a right to ask them to do during the strike. As a punitive measure, CPR said, it was not a deduction of regular dues, but rather a “special assessment” and CPR was not bound by the collective agreement to deduct the new amount from their paycheques.

The union filed a grievance, claiming CPR had a duty to make the deductions as the new amounts were regular dues agreed to by the union membership and not doing so was interfering with the administration of the union, which was contrary to the Canada Labour Code.

The arbitrator found the history of previous collective agreements and the language of the current one allowed for a “single uniform amount of dues,” which had always been the case. The collective agreement did allow for increases in the amount of dues, but only in the amount of “regular” dues, which the arbitrator found indicated “a degree of uniformity.”

Not regular dues under collective agreement

The arbitrator also found the union’s reasons for the increase — to cover the cost of the recent strike and future strikes as well as the negotiations — indicated the increased amount paid by the supervisors was to offset the cost of strikes to a greater degree than that of regular members. The arbitrator felt this fell under the category of a special assessment rather than “uniform, regular dues.”

A change such as this would have to be negotiated into the collective agreement, the arbitrator said, because it could have a negative effect on CPR by being a deterrent for employees to seek promotion into management and cause administrative complexity of collecting different amounts of dues from different employees.

The arbitrator ruled the increased dues for supervisors were not regular dues under the collective agreement and CPR was under no obligation to deduct them from the supervisors’ paycheques under the existing collective agreement.

For more information see:

•Canadian Pacific Railway Company v. Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division (Oct. 16, 2008), M. Picher — Arb. (Canadian Railway Office of Arbitration & Dispute Resolution).

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