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standing committee “agreement” not binding
August 2, 2002

In a BC arbitration award issued last year, a unanimous three-panel board chaired by Donald Munroe, Q.C. dismissed the grievance of PPWC Local 1 alleging that the Celger Pulp Company (Castlegar location) could not unilaterally change a call-out procedure.

The union’s grievance was based on Celgar’s decision to amend call-out procedures for short-term absences in both the machine room and fibreline departments. Previous procedures regarding call-outs for both departments had been in place since 1995 in the machine room and 1996 in the fibreline department. The previous procedures were established rather informally. They had been drafted by an employee in each department following consultation with the other employees in that department. These draft proposals were then submitted to union stewards and to company management. The company apparently had no issue with the proposals because in the case of each department, the draft proposals were agreed to, or at least not opposed in Standing Committee meetings, and thereafter posted, along with a notation as to the date of implementation.

The union did not allege that the call-out procedures were a binding commitment under the collective agreement, but rather that the binding commitment was made in the Standing Committee and as such were as binding as if they had been included in the scope of the collective agreement. In support of its argument, the union relied on the minutes of two Standing Committee meetings.

The company disagreed with the union’s assertion of ‘Standing Committee agreements’ in the sense of commitments mutually understood to be binding until and unless varied by further agreement at the Standing Committee.

In one meeting, the proposal regarding call-outs drafted by the fibreline employees was discussed, with the company representative stating that he would research an appropriate time for implementation. This, the arbitrator found, provided very weak support for the union’s argument.

The second record of minutes relied on by the union came from a 1992 meeting wherein the Company stated; “The call-out procedure was agreed to in the Standing Committee, not negotiated.” The union argued that the word ‘agreed’ to in that context indicated a binding commitment, but the arbitration board found that whatever the scope of semantic discussion possible as to the meaning of the word ‘agreed,’ in this context, it was clear that it did not establish that both parties understood the call-out procedures to be mutually binding. This view, the board held, was reinforced by the company’s explicit statement that the content of the call-out procedures was ‘not negotiated,’ in direct contradiction to a union statement in the same minutes that the call-out procedure had been negotiated.

In short, the Board felt that there was no strong evidence whatsoever to support the union’s contention that the procedures with respect to call-outs had been made mutually binding in any manner.

This case illustrates the importance of careful use of terminology in Standing Committee minutes.

(Click here for link to Decision)