The workplace in this situation is a casino. The casino employees have been unionized for the past decade. Initially they were represented by a small independent union, but three years ago that union merged with the larger Specialty Workers Union, and the certification order was amended to reflect this change. The first collective agreement in this workplace stated that the
The workplace in this situation is a casino. The casino employees have been unionized for the past decade. Initially they were represented by a small independent union, but three years ago that union merged with the larger Specialty Workers Union, and the certification order was amended to reflect this change.
The first collective agreement in this workplace stated that the employer would provide the union with a furnished private office in the casino. Since the change of representation, however, the employer has tried to close this office, because it claims it needs the space for management offices, and because the new union has more resources than the former union; therefore, the employer claims that the union does not require a subsidized office. The union took this dispute to arbitration, and the arbitrator ruled that the employer must maintain a union office in the casino until the end of the collective agreement (which has now expired).
The employer has offered to provide “suitable space” for union activities on an ad hoc basis and on 24 hours’ notice. The employer has suggested an alternative space in the workplace, and the union has agreed to consider an office space adjacent to the lunchroom (the union office was formerly located immediately adjacent to the casino floor). However, when the parties could not reach an agreement on the wage issue, the employer withdrew its proposals around the office issue. At the end of last year, the employer announced a policy that union staff representatives (who are employees of the union, not employees of the casino) were not allowed in the employee lunchroom to conduct union business, except to post notices. On at least one occasion, a union staff representative was escorted out of the lunchroom by management staff. The employer says that employees have expressed the wish not to be bothered by union representatives while they are on their breaks. When the employees were represented by the previous union, the union staff representatives were also casino employees, and so were frequently on the casino floor. Approximately two years after the union merger, the employer barred union staff representatives from being on the casino floor unless they follow a designated route to the union offi ce or they are escorted by a management representative. The employer has also used the casino’s surveillance equipment to track the movement of union staff representatives. The employer claims this is necessary because on several occasions union staff representatives have been observed, or have been suspected of, entering parts of the casino that are off limits to nonemployees.
The employer also states that these policies are necessary because of the regulations the casino is licensed under, which restrict who has access to certain parts of the casino’s operations, and because security is important in a workplace where large amounts of cash are being handled. The employer also has an internal policy banning “idle conversations” among staff who are serving the public.
The board viewed two security videos of union staff representatives that were taken approximately two months before the current collective bargaining commenced. The first video was about four minutes long and tracked the staff representative as she entered the casino, spoke briefly with three employees in different locations, and took notes during one of the conversations. No customers were in sight during any of the conversations. The second video was less than a minute and a half long. It tracked another staff representative as he walked through the gaming tables in the casino and had two brief conversations with dealers at different tables. No customers were playing at either table.
The issue of wages has been contentious during the bargaining process. The casino’s original wage structure allowed employees to earn annual wage increases, to accumulate hours of service and receive wage increases when “target” amounts of hours were reached, and to earn increases by acquiring additional skills (e.g., dealers learning to deal additional games). This led to what was called the “diagonal” wage structure. This was a difficult wage structure to renegotiate because, with all the different classifications and rates, it was not easy to calculate the impact of a percentage increase in wages (the traditional form of quantifying wage increases during bargaining). There was also the added complication of calculating the impact of employee movement, such as employees being promoted to higher-paying classifications, or new employees joining the organization at lower rates of pay than longer-serving employees. Nevertheless, the employer’s early proposals in the bargaining process were based on the “diagonal” structure, and the union responded on the same basis for the first 14 months of bargaining.
At the start of this year, the employer tabled a proposal to eliminate the “diagonal” wage structure for new employees. Under this proposal, current employees would continue to be paid under the “diagonal” structure, but new employees would be paid under a structure that did not include pay increases based on hours. The employer also proposed “equity adjustments” that would increase the pay rates in several job classifications that were considered underpaid compared with the rates in the current labour market.
The union rejected this proposal on the basis that the wages for new employees were too low and that a two-tier wage structure would create divisions in the workplace. It also said that the proposal was made too late in the bargaining process, and that if the employer began bargaining on the basis of the “diagonal” grid, then it should continue doing so.
The Union’s Position
The union argued that the employer bargaining in bad faith and attempting to undermine ability to represent its members. It argued that the employer’s unwillingness to provide a union office, the employer’s rules regarding union staff representatives’ activity in the workplace, and the problems in the collective bargaining process all part of a general strategy to minimize and neutralize the union’s presence. The union stated it believes that this strategy motivated by the employer’s desire to not have a union in the workplace at all, or to make the union members so
disaffected that they decide to decertify the union. The union stated that there are no regulations in the licensing of the casino, either by gaming authorities or by liquor control authorities, specifically addressing what union representatives are permitted to do in the workplace.
The union also stated that it has never been provided with any policy manual that contains restrictions on “idle conversations” in the workplace.
The union argued that the two-tier wage proposal, if allowed, will make it difficult for the union to organize other employers in the gaming industry, as it creates a group of “second class citizens” within the workplace and does not make the union look credible. The union suggested that such a change in bargaining position should only be allowed if the employer in serious financial trouble that would make it impossible to continue negotiating as before. The union stated that while the proposal is not illegal, allowing it to be reintroduced at this point would destroy the framework of collective bargaining that has already been established.
The Employer’s Position With respect to the issue of office space for the union, the employer stated that the previous arrangement was designed to assist a small union with limited resources.
Since the new union is a large international union with considerable financial and staff resources, the employer stated it believes it should not have to continue subsidizing the union’s operations.
The employer stated that the restrictions on union staff member activity are necessary to comply with internal and external policies related to workplace security. In the case of the video surveillance of the two union staff representatives, the employer argued that these individuals were “wandering” around the gaming floor and distracting employees by engaging in conversations during working hours. The employer argued that the two-tier wage proposal is not intended to destroy collective bargaining, but instead intended to help achieve a collective agreement. The employer characterized the proposal as not being fundamentally new, but instead as an alternate version of the original proposal, and one that recognizes the need for cost containment which the employer expressed at the start of collective bargaining. The employer argued that the board should not consider whether the two-tier system would affect the union’s ability to organize other workplaces, since boards usually do not intervene in collective bargaining or organizing efforts.
This problem has been solved!
Industrial Relations in Canada
Authors: Fiona McQuarrie