Canada Post staffer awarded after heated confrontation

Employer violated employee’s right to complain

A postie based in Edmonton received compensation after an arbitrator found Canada Post violated the collective agreement when dealing with one of her complaints.

Yvette Brusseau, a union steward who worked the midnight shift at the Edmonton Mail Processing Plant for two years, attempted to schedule a meeting with her superiors in 2009 concerning the accommodation she was receiving regarding a workplace injury.

The matter could not be resolved with her shift superintendent, so Brusseau arranged a meeting with the next higher-up, the shift manager, as per normal protocol.

However, she alleged the manager refused to meet with her because she was accompanied by another union steward. Brusseau said she was told to "get out."

Being a union steward, she believed the relationship between her, as a union steward, and her managers was already strained.

Later that afternoon, the shift superintendent approached Brusseau and asked whether her complaint had been resolved. That interaction motivated the grievance.

According to Brusseau, she was approached by the shift superintendent on the floor, in front of half a dozen co-workers, and asked whether she had gotten what she needed to resolve the issue. Embarrassed, Brusseau replied, "No, please leave me alone."

Her superintendent pressed, inquiring what it was that didn’t get resolved, but eventually another employee walked over and the exchange ended.

The incident, as described by Brusseau, was "horrible, upsetting, embarrassing and humiliating."

She filed a grievance alongside the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and sought a declaration that Canada Post violated the collective agreement, as well as $500 in damages for the emotional distress and frustration Brusseau suffered.

However, Canada Post argued Brusseau misinterpreted the exchange, and there was no evidence to suggest otherwise.

When the shift supervisor approached the worker, she did so out of genuine concern for a health and safety matter, and it was done "in passing."

"(The superintendent’s) conduct was not egregious, harsh or vindictive — elements necessary to warrant monetary damages," the Crown corporation argued. "There was no evidence of a lasting impact…Bad feelings are an insufficient basis for a damage claim."

In his decision, arbitrator Allen Ponak partially sustained the grievance. Canada Post did indeed violate the collective agreement — particularly the clause pertaining to an employee’s right to complain.

"This breach, absent some reasonable explanation for the conduct, ought to attract more than a declaration," Ponak said. "It denigrates union rights, chills workplace dispute resolution efforts and disrespects employees. Some damages are appropriate."

But the exchange between Brusseau and her superior did not amount to harassment or improper conduct, Ponak said. Thus, she was only awarded $100 for the breach of the complaint clause.

Reference: Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). Allen Ponak — arbitrator. Kristie Faasen for the employer, Greg McMaster for the union. June 1, 2014.

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