B.C. forest technicians twice denied recall to jobs

Work given to labourers to cut costs

Two workers at the Skimikin Seed Orchard (SSO) in British Columbia were twice denied recalls in 2015, despite being ready and willing to work. 

Cindy Anderson and Alle Palmer worked at the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources as forest technicians. They were regularly laid off in the fall or winter, and then recalled back to work in the spring of the following year.

But on two occasions in 2015 (between May 5 to May 8, and on July 28), the pair were not brought back to work. Their recall rights expired on July 31, 2015.

The ministry contended that as part of its management rights, it was allowed to assign work to labourers instead of Anderson and Palmer to keep costs down. The union, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, grieved the treatment, arguing the pair should have been recalled for the research planting project in May and the cone harvest in July. 

Both worked managing seeds, cones and trees at the orchard, which is located in Tappen, B.C. In most years, the pair would pick cones in addition to other duties, but once every four years, according to Palmer, extra labourers would be brought in to provide more help when the crop was too large for the existing staff to handle.

In May 2015, Anderson went to the SSO office to retrieve her pesticide ticket, and she saw various people planting trees, which she felt forest technicians such as herself and Palmer should have been recalled to do. Hilary Graham, SSO manager, said, “There wasn’t enough work” when questioned by Anderson about why they weren’t recalled.

“If (the cone crop) is now to be done by labourer(s) instead of (forest technicians), it would have been ethical to let Cindy (and I) know. We are willing to work,” wrote Palmer to Graham on July 23.

But a 2014 site review completed by Stephen Joyce, seed production manager, showed the orchard had been losing money for years, which was against its mandate. Joyce determined SSO was overstaffed at times, leading to high labour costs. 

Arbitrator Marli Rusen upheld the grievance. “If the employer implements operational or staffing changes in a manner that breaches the collective agreement — as it has in these circumstances — then the violation has occurred, regardless of the underlying intention.”

When management decided to cut costs by hiring labourers instead of forest technicians to do the jobs they had previously done (picking cones), it did not have the right to do so, said Rusen. “The fact that some of these duties had also been and could be performed by individuals in a lower classification (i.e. labourers) does not justify a refusal to recall Anderson and Palmer if, as in this case, it is work ordinarily done by them in the past.”

Forest technicians had done similar work on many occasions in the past. “The testimony of Anderson and Palmer and other witnesses, along with the detailed information set out in the 2014 Orchard Costing System, makes it abundantly clear that forest technicians at SSO have routinely engaged in both skilled and unskilled tasks, including cone picking, actual planting, assisting with research, building maintenance among many other duties,” said Rusen.

“The work performed by labourers during the week of July 28, 2015, was ‘the same nature of work and for the same purpose’ as the work performed by Anderson and Palmer in the prior seasons in which they worked. It is work that falls squarely within the ‘family of tasks’ associated with Anderson and Palmer’s previous work at SSO.”

Reference: Ministry of Forests, Lands, Resources and Operations and B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. Marli Rusen — arbitrator. Denise Pritchard for the employer. Erik Hoibak for the employee. March 20, 2017.

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