Unscheduled Wait Time Not Payable as Overtime

Prior to setting out on their delivery routes, eight letter carriers were told by their supervisor to delay their departure to await the arrival of a truck with priority mail.

The wait was 15 minutes. When the employer refused the workers’ overtime claims for the 15 minutes, the union grieved.

The union’s argument was that each component of a letter carrier’s work is accounted for and structured according to a time value. Duties or tasks not included in a route’s time values are additional duties and should be compensated at overtime rates.

Waiting time at the start of a shift was not an evaluated duty, nor did it carry any time value for those workers, the union said. The 15 minutes in question amounted to an additional function or responsibility and the workers were therefore entitled to compensation at an overtime rate.

T.R., a letter carrier with more than 25 years’ experience affirmed before the arbitrator that every task performed by a letter carrier has a time value and that when they perform duties that are not part of their regular route structure, overtime is payable.

Seven minutes of overtime

In this case, T.R. said, “My day was made 15 minutes longer.” While he acknowledged that he did finish his workday within eight hours, he could point to examples where he was paid overtime for doing an extra task that he completed within his eight-hour shift. On one occasion, he said, he was paid seven minutes of overtime pay even though he did not work more than eight hours on that shift.

Overtime was not owed, the employer said. Overtime was paid for time worked in excess of eight hours per day and, in this case, none of the workers were claiming that they worked in excess of eight hours.

The arbitrator agreed that there was no evidence that any of the workers had worked in excess of eight hours on that day. The arbitrator also agreed with the employer’s assessment that the collective agreement specified that overtime was payable only where employees worked in excess of eight hours per day.

While the collective agreement did provide for overtime pay without regard to the hours worked in a day in a couple of exceptional circumstances — such as when a worker’s shift was changed without sufficient notice or when a worker was called back in to work after leaving — this wasn’t one of them. Had the parties intended that such a premium would paid in these circumstances, they would have included contract language to that effect, the arbitrator said.

Highly structured environment

The arbitrator agreed that letter carriers work in a highly structured environment that assigns time values to each task and element of their workday. He acknowledged too that there was uncontradicted evidence that letter carriers were paid overtime for additional work performed that had no time value attached even if that work was performed concurrently with other duties and was completed within the eight hour shift.

However, the arbitrator said, “waiting time is qualitatively different … than a specific function, duty or responsibility, such as a call back, delivering additional items or doing an extra relay. I accept that adding 15 minutes of wait time can add additional time to a letter carrier’s day. On the other hand, many other things can also add time to a letter carrier’s day. The time values used to build a route are based on averages and the use of time values should not be confused with adherence to a rigid schedule such that there is no room for the normal vagaries of day-to-day events. [D]ay-to-day variations are part of the work life of a letter carrier and are not inconsistent with the specified time values under the route measurement system. Unless they result in more than eight hours of work, no overtime is payable.” The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Canada Post Corp. and Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Allen Ponak — Sole Arbitrator. Todd Jarema for the Union and Wes Scheuerman for the Employer. November 29, 2009. 10 pp.

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