Union organizer finds roadblock to new job

Driver actively organized union members with old employer but was not hired with others by new employer taking over driving contract

This instalment of You Make the Call features a bus driver who claimed a new contractor didn’t hire him because of his union activities.

Glenn Polivka was a bus driver with a Saskatchewan school division that had a contract with a Regina school district to provide school bus services until June 30, 2006. On Jan. 1, 2006, Polivka’s division merged with another division to form the Prairie Valley School Division. The new division agreed to continue bus services for Regina until June 30, 2007, but no longer. Prairie Valley also told its drivers they would no longer be employed after that date.

Around the same time, Polivka was involved in organizing the drivers to discuss the way Prairie Valley assigned charter trip work. Prairie Valley was aware of Polivka’s role in the organizing.

In March 2007, Regina awarded the school bus contract to Warner Transportation Services Limited. Prairie Valley’s bus drivers were told they would be given the opportunity to apply for jobs with Warner and there would be no changes in the conditions of work.

Polivka met with Warner management in mid-April as part of Warner’s evaluation to see if drivers were “suitable for employment.” At the meeting, Polivka strongly disagreed with Warner’s proposed method of assigning charter work. He thought it should be based only on seniority, while Warner felt “experience within the driving pool” was important. Warner claimed Polivka became “argumentative, verging on belligerent” and “dominated” the meeting.

Later, Prairie Valley informed Warner that Polivka had a poor attitude and was a “problem employee.” Polivka was also included on a list of drivers Prairie Valley considered to have “a negative attitude or driving issues.” Warner was also told of his union organizing activities.

On June 28, 2007, Polivka was told Warner decided not to hire him after reviewing several criteria including drivers abstracts, criminal checks, performance on the job and attitude. He asked for an explanation but Warner didn’t elaborate. Polivka was one of only five bus drivers from Prairie Valley that weren’t hired on by Warner.

Polivka was surprised as he had a clean driving record, no criminal record and had no disciplinary record with Prairie Valley. Polivka’s union filed a complaint for unfair labour practices, claiming Warner didn’t hire him because he complained about the charter work and was a “key union organizer” at Prairie Valley. An application was also filed claiming that his qualifications for the job were sufficient to allow for his reinstatement pending a final judgment.
You Make the Call

Did Warner unfairly refuse to hire Polivka because of his union organizing activities?
Was Polivka’s attitude a legitimate reason for not hiring him?

If you said Warner unfairly refused to hire Polivka, you’re right. The board found Warner had discussed Polivka’s union activity with Prairie Valley. According to Warner’s criteria for drivers, Polivka had no reason to think he didn’t meet the standards. Warner also didn’t give him specific reasons as to why he was one of the few who wasn’t hired, and the potential effects on the unionized employees were significant enough to raise the board’s suspicion.

“The fact a main union organizer or supporter is among the very few drivers hired is almost certain to have a chilling effect on the employees’ confidence in their ability to exercise rights under (The Trade Union Act) without fear of discrimination or reprisal,” the board said.

The board found there was nothing wrong with Polivka’s qualifications for a job with Warner and in fact Warner didn’t express any concerns about his ability to do the job. The board ordered Warner to hire Polivka as a full-time bus driver under the same conditions as other Prairie Valley drivers hired on to continue servicing the Regina School District.

For more information see:

Grain Services Union v. Warner Transportation Services Ltd., 2007 CarswellSask 706 (Sask. Arb. Bd.).

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