Suspension stands for worker who walked away

Veteran employee entitled to lost holiday pay

After unexpectedly walking off the job, a 16-year veteran lumber mill worker’s bid to have his suspension reversed was denied — but he was entitled to the holiday pay he lost.

Mike Whitney, a green chain piler employed at Tembec Enterprises in Ontario, was issued a five-day suspension after he left his co-workers in a lurch by going home early, and without explanation.

Further complicating the matter is that, because the suspension was issued on Dec. 19, that meant Whitney was technically suspended over the Christmas holidays.

As such, Tembec did not provide holiday pay for Dec. 24, 25 or 26 — three of the statutory holidays employees are paid for, as per the collective agreement.

His union, the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-1000, submitted that, whether discipline was warranted or not, Whitney was entitled to holiday pay.

At the start of the shift in question, Whitney reported for duty as usual, but there was a hold-up on the assembly line left over from the previous shift, stalling work. Like the rest of the employees working on his side of the plant, Whitney stood and waited until the line started moving again (a problem being sorted by other employees).

His supervisor inquired whether anything was the matter, as he described Whitney’s demeanor as being "distressed."

Later on, with the assembly line at a standstill, the supervisor asked again. He had also asked the day prior, as he said his employee’s mood was troubling.

Whitney replied by saying he did not feel good after all and, without waiting for a response, left it at that and went home for the day.

Discussing his conduct in a meeting the following day, Whitney offered no explanation for his behaviour and even went as far as to suggest his supervisor was incompetent.

USW filed a grievance, arguing the suspension was excessive and that the lost holiday pay be remitted in full.

Tembec disagreed.

In the disciplinary notice, the employer argued the discipline for Whitney’s "act of insubordination" was more than warranted and he should not receive any holiday pay.

"(Whitney’s) shift was left short-handed, creating (an) extra workload for Mike’s co-workers as well as undue hardship for the sawmill," the employer said.

Walking off the job, in a ticked-off mood, without cause, notice or permission, is the very definition of insubordination, said arbitrator Dana Randall.

As a result, Randall dismissed USW’s protests regarding the suspension. However — reluctantly — Whitney was compensated for the holiday pay he did not receive, as opposed to amounting to collateral damage.

"The loss of the three statutory holidays is another matter," Randall’s decision reads. "The grievor has long service, he appears to have a depressive disorder…While the latter does not, in all of the circumstances, excuse his conduct, it mitigates it to some degree."

In the end, Whitney’s suspension stood, but he was paid for the Christmas holidays.

Reference: Tembec Enterprises Inc. and the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-1000. Dana Randall — arbitrator. Kevin MacNeill for the employer, John Goldthorp for the union. June 4, 2014.

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