Potash mine violated contract after contracting out

Company could have consulted union, arbitrator says

A Saskatchewan-based Potash company violated its collective agreement when it failed to notify or consult with the union before it went ahead and contracted out work, an arbitrator has decided.

Agrium, located in Vanscoy, Sask., is an underground potash mine and surface mill that operates 24-seven, 365 days out of the year. There are about 500 union members, with two-thirds working below ground and one-third working on the surface.

According to Darrin Kruger, an 18-year-old heavy-duty mechanic and the president of the United Steelworkers Local 7552 sector who also serves as a member of the "contracting out" committee, the union’s concern was that there was a "lost opportunity" of work, overtime and apprenticeships for the bargaining unit.

The incident, which occurred during a summer maintenance shutdown back in 2011, involved Kruger going to the job site to work on a part of a mining machine. While the machine should not have been in production, he noticed ventilation was inadequate and began to work on that before the machine. Because that task took up a significant amount of time, the welding repair on the machine part was not completed. The next morning, Kruger was told he need not return to fix it because it had been completed by a contractor the evening prior.

Though the employer did have the right to continue its longstanding practice of using outside contractors on the job site, the provisions in the collective agreement are a right, like other management rights, that can be restricted or limited through bargaining.

As such, Kruger went on to say, the contract stipulated the company, wherever practicable, will have such work performed by a bargaining unit employee. If it is deemed appropriate to go ahead and contract out the work, the union should be informed.

"(This) should be given broad interpretation rather than the narrow one urged by the employer," the union argued. "The information is to be provided prior to the contractors being engaged...Prior to the beginning of each month."

The USW confines its claim to $1,600 in damages and additionally sought a declaration that the employer violated the collective agreement and should cease and desist any future violations of such nature.

However, the company maintained that there were limitations on its right to contract out work, it did not violate the contract when there was unplanned assignment of work.

The contractor hired for the job, moreover, was one who had been hired before, and therefore the employer had already notified the union of his name on the contractors list. The person who performed the work, as a result, was not a so-called additional contractor.

In his decision, arbitrator William Hood ruled in favour of the union, since the company failed to inform or discuss its decision in any form.

"Upon receipt of this notification, the union may request a meeting to discuss the information provided as set forth in the collective agreement. Not only does the (provision) say this, the whole purpose of the meeting is to provide the union with an opportunity to convince the employer to use bargaining unit employees for the work instead of outside contractors," Hood explained. "If the notification were postponed until after the work had been performed, the right to discuss and consult would be neutered if not rendered completely meaningless."

He ruled Agrium violated the collective agreement and awarded the USW $1,500 in damages.

Reference: Agrium, Vanscoy Potash Operations and the United Steelworkers Local 7552. William Hood — arbitrator. Gordon D. Hamilton for the employer, Gary Bainbridge for the union. Aug. 28, 2014.

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