Meter Services was contracted by the provincial power utility at the end of last year to conduct readings of power meters at customers homes. Meter Services began the work at the start of this year. In the spring, the Trades
Meter Services was contracted by the provincial power utility at the end of last year to conduct readings of power meters at customers’ homes. Meter Services began the work at the start of this year. In the spring, the Trades Union began a campaign to organize Meter Services’ employees.
The union has filed an application for certification with the labour relations board.
Every morning, the meter readers for each area meet at a station, where they are given their route assignments for the day. A station leader distributes the route assignments, and also distributes any bulletins or other communications from the employer. Safety meetings are also occasionally held at the stations. Before going out on their routes, each meter reader is given a hand-held device which they use to read meters. The meter reader downloads their assigned route onto the device. The download includes the most recent coding assigned to each meter on the route. There are four coding categories:
P1 (residential in-town, meter accessible on foot), P2 (rural/ residential, meter only accessible by driving), P3 (large industrial/commercial), and P4 (small commercial in-town).
The coding is used to calculate the amount that the customer is charged for their power usage. The meter reader is able to change the existing coding for a meter if they feel a different code is more accurate. When the meter reader finishes their shift, they return to the station and upload the coding into a centralized database. The meter reader also records on paper the routes they covered, the number of codes they recorded, and the time it took them to complete each route.
At the end of this summer, Meter Services’ provincial supervisor, Brandon Wilson, sent out a letter to be distributed to all meter readers. The letter stated that there had been an audit of the coding records, and that “a notable percentage” of coding was inaccurate—specifically, many meters were being coded into a cost category that was too high. Meter readers are paid $0.34 for each meter they code as P1, and are paid $1.20 for each meter they code as P2. The letter stated that if any employee was found to have deliberately adjusted codes incorrectly or “for personal gain”, they would be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. The letter requested that the meter readers review and sign off on an attached form listing the current coding categories, and return the signed form to their station supervisor.
John Lyons is a meter reader working out of the Metro station. He was hired in the spring of this year. When the letter from Wilson was distributed, he signed and returned the attached form as requested.
A week after Lyons signed and returned the form, he was assigned to a route he had not previously worked on. The route had 440 meters. The meter reader who had most recently worked on that route had coded 34 meters on the route as P2. When Lyons did the route, he coded 88 meters as P2. He uploaded the data from the route into the central database and handed in his paper report, which reported that he completed the route in two and a half hours. He was paid $225.28 for completing the route. Evan Carlisle, the general manager for the region that included the Metro station, told the board that he did not formally audit all of the information submitted by the meter readers, but that he watched for “anomalies.” He said that Lyons’ information stood out because of the increase in the number of P2 codes, and added that in the seven 173 months since the route was created, no other meter reader had recorded that many P2 codes on the route. Carlisle said he notified Wilson of his concerns about Lyons’ coding, and Wilson decided to terminate Lyons’ employment based on this information. Wilson told Carlisle to meet with Lyons and inform Lyons that his employment was being terminated.
Six days after Lyons submitted his data for the route, Carlisle and Lyons met at the Metro station. Carlisle told Lyons he had “bad news” and informed Lyons that he (Lyons) had coded 54 more meters as P2 than had the previous meter reader on the same route, and that this was “cause for dismissal.” Carlisle told the board that Lyons looked shocked and distraught, and asked Carlisle if there was a process to appeal. Lyons told Carlisle that he (Lyons) had been doing his job “right” and had been told so.
Carlisle gave Lyons a termination letter dated that same day. The letter stated that Lyons had been terminated “for cause” and that Lyons should return all company property to Ross Foley, the Metro station manager.
The letter also stated that a final payment to Lyons, including regular pay and accrued vacation pay, “was deposited” to Lyons’ bank account; however, the date given for this payment was three days later. Carlisle told the board that after Lyons was terminated, the next three readers who were assigned to the route coded the number of P2s as 17, five, and five.
Lyons told the board that the route included a “significant number” of townhouses, and his understanding was that the first meter in a group of meters at a townhouse complex was to be coded as P2 and the other meters were to be coded as P1. He said that he understood that meters for properties with individual lot frontages under 300 feet qualified for P1 coding. He stated that he confirmed this information with Foley the day before he met with Lyons, and had confirmed this in the past as well. Foley denies that he ever told Lyons this.
The day before Lyons met with Carlisle, there was a safety meeting at the Metro station. Lyons, Foley, and two other witnesses told the board that at the meeting Lyons and another meter reader asked questions about the definitions of the P1 and P2 codes. Foley said he “did not have a good recollection” of what happened at the meeting, but that “a few” of the meter readers asked about the codes. Foley said he answered that 100 steps was approximately 300 feet, and that if “you reached 100 steps” the meter should be coded as P2. Foley told the board that he thought the meter readers asking the questions “did not quite understand” the definitions in the form they had signed and returned.
Foley also told the board that if a route included houses on a hill, the meter readers were permitted to code every fifth meter as a P2. This rule was not explained or defined in the form the meter readers signed, but Foley described it as a “grey area.” Carlisle and Wilson also told the board that there were many “grey areas” in which meter readers were expected to “use their best judgement” in assigning codes.
Two weeks after his termination, Lyons sent an email to Wilson. In the email, Lyons said he had been fired for violating the “pay code contract”—the form that the meter readers had been asked to sign and return—but that there were “contradictions” between the meter readers’ written instructions and the verbal instructions he and other meter readers had been given by Foley at the Metro station. Lyons described the answers that Foley gave to the questions at the safety meeting, and noted the informal rule about coding meters on hills. Lyons also stated that he had never received any verbal or written complaints about his work, and alleged that Foley assigned “golden routes” to certain employees. Lyons asked Wilson to contact other meter readers at the Metro station and to “look into this matter further.”
Four days later, Lyons sent an email to Robert Fisher, the power company’s executive vice-president. In this email, Lyons said that he had been dismissed for “theft due to inappropriate pay codes,” but that he had been told when he was hired and at the safety meeting how to code meters at townhouse complexes and on hills, and that he had followed these directions. He also said that memos with those directions had been posted at the station. He noted that “on a daily basis” he had recoded meters into lower coding categories, but that had been “overlooked.” He also repeated that none of the other meter readers at the Metro station had been questioned regarding these “contradictions,” and that Foley did not regularly rotate routes among all meter readers, resulting in most of the meter readers “get[ting] the same undesirable routes.” He asked Fisher to “look into this matter objectively and dismiss the correct employee.” Meter Readers’ witnesses told the board that the company was aware of the union organizing campaign, and that union organizers had been seen at the stations. Carlisle told the board that he was aware of employees actively trying to recruit other employees to sign the application for certification, and that he understood that some employees were openly opposing unionization.
Carlisle said that he and Lyons had had a conversation regarding being in a union. Carlisle told the board that he did not know if Lyons supported the union, and that all he had said in the conversation was to “correct” Lyons’ statement that, after unionization in another area, the company had cut the pay rates for the meter readers working in that area. After questioning by the board, Carlisle said that he did not recall making comments that not being unionized would be “better” for the employees, and that the employees were making more money than they would make with other employers. Lyons told the board that he remembered Carlisle making those comments, and that he and Carlisle had also discussed other benefits of unionization, such as sick days and grievance procedures.
The Employer’s Position
The employer argued that it clearly set out its expectations for meter reading in Wilson’s letter and the attached form, and that Lyons had signed and returned the form.
The employer stated that Lyons’ testimony demonstrated that he knew what the guidelines were, and alleged that he intentionally breached the guidelines for “personal gain” and had shown no remorse for his actions. The employer stated that the penalty for Lyons’ actions was appropriate for his misconduct.
The employer alleged that Lyons’ emails attempted to place blame on Foley in order to cover up Lyons’ own misconduct, and that Lyons’ testimony to the board indicated that Foley did not in fact assign the better routes to certain employees.
The employer stated that it was “absurd” for Lyons to be paid $225.28 for two and a half hours of work, and that there was no reason to code the first meter in every meter bank at a townhouse complex as P2, even if there was less than 300 feet between the meters.
The employer said that there was no evidence presented to indicate any anti-union animus in Lyons’ termination, and that Carlisle’s views on unionization were “irrelevant” because his position would be included in the union’s proposed bargaining unit.
The employer asked the board to dismiss the union’s complaint.
The Union’s Position
The union argued that Lyons’ termination was not for proper cause and was motivated by anti-union animus. The union stated that Lyons’ testimony showed that he had voiced his views on the union to Carlisle, and that the employer was aware of Lyons’ views because of this.
The union alleged that the employer did not conduct an adequate investigation of the situation involving Lyons, and did not discuss its concerns about Lyons’ performance with him prior to terminating his employment. In the union’s view, Lyons also did not have an opportunity to explain his actions to the employer before he was informed that his employment was being terminated. The union stated that the testimony from the employer’s witnesses indicated that the employer accepted that there were “grey areas” in how the meter readers interpreted the coding categories. The union argued that the questions from the meter readers at the safety meeting demonstrated that Lyons was not the only employee who was having difficulty understanding the coding information, and argued the employer did not take the appropriate steps to implement a “clear policy” that would be understood.
The union argued that there was no reasonable relationship between Lyons’ actions and the discipline that the employer used in response.
The union asked the board to declare the employer’s conduct in violation of the labour relations legislation, and to reinstate Lyons with back pay from the date of his termination until the date of his reinstatement. The union also asked the board to order that a copy of its decision be posted at all of the employer’s stations.
This problem has been solved!