Volume 13, Number 3 September 23, 2005

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Arbitration award goes against U of S on job evaluation

But process flawed: Board

By Lawrence McMahen

An arbitration board has ruled the U of S breached its collective agreement with the union representing 1,800 support staff when it walked away from a joint job evaluation process in 2003.

The board did agree with the University that much of that six-year-long process was flawed, but it has directed the University and the CUPE 1975 union to try to return to the job evaluation table and attempt to make the project work.

Barb Daigle, the University's Associate Vice-President of Human Resources, says she believes the arbitrator's logic fails - because if he agrees the process was flawed and the parties had reached an impasse, then his objection to the U of S ending that process doesn't follow.

Daigle says the U of S may seek a judicial review of the arbitration board's ruling - and it holds to its belief the job evaluation process is fatally flawed.

She adds the best place for the U of S and CUPE to work out a positive settlement on pay equity and an improved job classification system for employees is in the contract bargaining currently underway.

The Aug. 31 decision by two of the three arbitration board members, including chair William Hood, finds that the University breached the collective agreement on two counts. First, it refused to continue attending meetings of the Job Evaluation Steering Committee (JESC), though the job evaluation process was agreed to in the collective agreement and its terms of reference said it should carry on to completion. And second, the University declared an impasse but it wouldn't proceed to the impasse-resolving arbitration process that was in the job evaluation project's terms of reference.

Hood's judgment states the parties should either return to the job evaluation table or agree to some other process. If the impasse continues, he says, they should let the project's own arbitration process determine if the whole job evaluation initiative is fatally flawed, if it should start again from the beginning, or if it is proceeding according to its terms of reference.

Daigle says this will lead to years of continued hearings. “The University needs a solution and one has been presented to the union at the current round of negotiations,” she says.

Glenn Ross, CUPE 1975's Saskatoon President, says the arbitration ruling is “a victory” for CUPE. “It shows us the University had no right to walk away from the job evaluation table.

“Our position is that we're sticking with the [arbitration board's] award, and we expect the University to honour that award.”

But Daigle says the University continues to believe, as it did when it left the job evaluation project two years ago, that the process was so broken it couldn't be fixed - and there was no alternative but to end it.

And in his arbitration decision, Hood agrees that the process had major flaws that led it to stray from the goals set out in the project's initial terms of reference.

He notes the project's steering committee was created to oversee the whole job evaluation process, then one Job Evaluation Committee (JEC) was established at the U of S and another at the University of Regina. (CUPE 1975 also represents 600 support staff - and CUPE, the U of S and U of R are all parties to a single collective agreement.)

Hood notes the two Job Evaluation Committees were allowed from 2000 to 2003 to operate separately and develop different job ratings for similar jobs at the two universities. When that was realized, the steering committee began a process of “cobbling together” the ratings for similar jobs from the two places, but Hood notes that would likely be hard to defend later, when employees might appeal their classification and wonder why the steering committee had overridden their Job Evaluation Committee's initial rating of the position.

By mid-2003 the U of S strongly opposed the cobbling effort, saying that would arbitrarily change the carefully considered ratings the local Job Evaluation Committee gave to positions at the U of S. The University left the job evaluation process by November 2003, saying it couldn't produce the desired results for employees.

Daigle says that to go back now to that flawed cobbling process, or to start back to the beginning and try to assess employee positions all over again, would mire the University and the union in a cycle of never-ending talks.

She notes that CUPE and the U of S are free at any time to agree to proceed differently than set out in the 1998 job evaluation project, and the University thinks there's a much more positive way to go.

“Our preference is to resolve this at the bargaining table,” Daigle says.

She says that in an effort to make headway, the University in March 2004 created new classifications and pay rates for about 800 clerical and library workers - employees who Daigle says were most in need of pay equity adjustments. Many of the employees received six-per-cent pay hikes, and CUPE charged the move was a “union-busting” attempt by the U of S.

Daigle says those classifications and all terms of the collective agreement are subject to talks at the bargaining table - and that's where CUPE and the University should pursue their positions.

“This issue needs to be resolved by the parties.”

She says in the end, whether it's at the job evaluation table or the bargaining table, it's the two parties who must come to an agreement - and CUPE's contention that keeping job evaluation talks at a separate table will allow access to a separate pot of additional money from the province is false.

“There isn't a separate pay equity pot of money,” Daigle says.

“The University has given the union a proposal [at the current bargaining table] that would address the long-standing pay equity and market issues,” she adds.

CUPE 1975 represents U of S support workers in many colleges and departments, the Library, and administrative units like Food Services, Campus Safety, and Health, Safety & Environment.

Although bargaining sessions continued Sept. 20 and 21, earlier this month CUPE members voted to give the union a mandate to take job action, if it felt it necessary, up to and including a strike.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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