Call centre employees grieve after working weekends

Seniority only one factor in consideration: Arbitrator

The Household Loyalty Team (HHLT) at Bell Canada’s Ontario-based call centre was a Monday-to-Friday operation with varying shifts. Employees bid on the shifts, using their seniority.

Subsequently, the HHLT began operating Monday-to-Saturday and employees continued to provide their shift preferences, with the most senior employees avoiding the least desirable shifts.

In 2002, however, the employer shifted to become a seven-day-per-week operation. Ultimately, the employer deemed the shift bidding system to be unfair, with less senior employees covering all of the weekend shifts.

As a result, Bell implemented a “fairness by rotation” policy. The new policy required all employees to work weekend shifts on a rotating basis.

Employees’ shift preferences (other than weekend rotations) continued to be assigned by preference in order of seniority.
 
Union files policy grievance
Several employees filed individual grievances concerning the change and Unifor Local 6007 filed a policy grievance. The union argued the change breached the parties’ collective agreement because it gave no consideration to seniority and called for the policy to be reversed.

The employer argued its fairness by rotation policy was the best way to maintain employees’ work-life balance. If only employees with lower seniority were required to work weekend shifts they would likely become demoralized, the employer argued. These employees would burn out and the company would likely experience a decline in attendance.

Arbitrator weighs in
Arbitrator Christine Schmidt found the union’s arguments to be lacking.

“For one thing,” Schmidt said, “the union fails to recognize that seniority is only one factor that warrants due consideration. The other is the company’s business requirements. Neither factor trumps the other.”

At one time, the assignment of weekend work was not even a consideration of the collective agreement as seniority was used solely for the purpose of determining shift start times in the company’s Monday-to-Friday schedule.

“With the introduction of a seven-day operation, and the employer’s ultimate decision that no employee should be exempt from a share of weekend shifts, the most senior employees are still able to utilize their advantage securing the ‘best’ (most desirable) available shift start times, and they are also able to use their seniority advantage to select the most preferred days off,” Schmidt said.

The employer has a legitimate business interest in maintaining the morale of the more junior employees and Schmidt found the employer was entitled to weigh issues of fairness and work-life balance.

As a result, the grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Bell Canada and Unifor Local 6007. Christine Schmidt — arbitrator. Evan Van Dyk for the employer, Craig Floor for the union. May 13, 2016.

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