Employer considered meetings fact-finding, not investigative
After a third party took over management of Saskatoon’s transit division, union members stopped being paid for attending meetings, leading to a grievance.
The disability assistance program (DAP) was created in 2002 to help manage illnesses or injuries and their effect on the workforce. It was managed internally by occupational health consultants (OHCs) who were employed by the city.
But in March 2016, Bridges Health Services was contracted to manage the service. Employees no longer met with OHC workers, they met with staff at Bridges.
Under the collective agreement, “an employee summoned for an investigative or disciplinary interview shall have the right, if he so requests, to be accompanied by a union representative.”
When union representatives attended certain meetings in the past, they were paid for their time by the employer, the City of Saskatoon. However, the city argued that under the new process, meetings with Bridges were not classified as “investigative” which meant that attendance was not to be accompanied by union representation.
(Union representatives were paid by the city, which then sent an invoice to the union for the wages.)
The union, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 615, grieved the city’s decision on May 12, 2016.
During the arbitration hearing, a 2009 letter was produced that clarified who paid for certain meetings. “Investigative meetings, disciplinary interview meetings, grievance and/or arbitration meetings: Saskatoon Transit will pay the employee and one union representative at applicable rates to attend scheduled meetings with transit management,” said the letter, written by branch manager Mitch Riabko.
Since then, said the union, the city has paid for all meetings that had union representation.
Not every meeting included a union representative, just the contentious ones, said ATU.
When the Bridges contract was started, problems between the union and the employer arose, as the process was being ironed out. ATU eventually recommended that all meetings with Bridges officials included union representation.
However, management did not consider the meetings “investigative” and instead saw them as fact-finding efforts. The employer would only pay for attendance if the employer requested union representation, said Mike Moellenbeck, operations manager.
“It is not a requirement that a union rep be present. This is the same process as in the past with a referral to DAP. Therefore, this is not union business/city paid,” said a letter sent to the union on May 2, 2016.
The ATU grieved the response on May 12.
Arbitrator Sheila Denysiuk (backed by fellow board member Laura Sommervill but dissented by Carolyn Jones) dismissed the grievance.
“We are satisfied that the purpose of DAP meetings is fact-finding, not investigative. Employees are referred to DAP in order to validate absences, not to investigate suspected wrongdoing. Accordingly, although the employer has allowed representatives to attend such meetings in the past, and should continue to do so in the future, there is no corresponding requirement to pay for representation,” said Denysiuk.
The employer’s actions in the past lead to the union filing a grievance, said Denysiuk.
“We agree with the union that the employer haphazardly invoiced the union for DAP meetings attended by the union after Bridges was retained. The employer’s approach was confusing. Some leaves were granted, while others were refused or questioned. We have concluded that the evidence of past practice isn’t sufficient to support the union’s contention that the parties viewed DAP meetings as ‘investigative’ interviews.”
Reference: The City of Saskatoon and Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 615. Sheila Denysiuk — arbitrator. Tyson Bull, Reche McKeague for the employer. Gary Bainbridge for the employee. Aug. 21, 2019.