Decision reached in college arbitration hearing

Union representing the Northwest Community College faculty involved calls it a "major victory"

An arbitration hearing over how a layoff process unfolded at Northwest Community College (NWCC) in 2012 has resulted in a decision that will see some faculty compensated by the college for lost wages.

Members of both unions representing the faculty said that the arbitration decision reinforces the collective agreement, while the college said it has learned some lessons in how to negotiate future labour deals.

“We were successful on all of our major points,” said Kevin Rose, National Representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. “The remedies the arbitrator awarded were everything the union had asked for, so I would say we see this as a major victory.”

The arbitration took one year, with 18 hearings held throughout 2013, and a final decision released Dec. 30. Both sides hired lawyers and also paid fees for what was called a lengthy arbitration period.

In arbitrator Rod Germaine’s ruling papers, he states that the original dispute began when faculty at the various campuses across the northwest were sent a preliminary layoff notice by the college’s administration that indicated cuts were needed to make up for a deficit of more than $1 million.

The unions quickly responded by charging that the correct procedures were not followed leading up to the announcement.

Ultimately 10 layoff notices were issued, with four going to arbitration together, and another separately.

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE) said that several faculty members took early retirement and that other adjustments were negotiated by the unions, thus minimizing the layoff impacts, but that college administrators had initially “botched the whole process.”

The arbitration papers show that two faculty members will receive financial compensation for missed time on top of “declaratory relief in relation to both the breakdown of the joint layoff committee process under Article 11.2.2 and the violation of their seniority rights” awarded to all four grievors.

The arbitrator also said that “the grievors’ joint layoff committees did not perform their responsibilities under Article 11.2.2.”

President and CEO of NWCC, Denise Henning, sees some positives in the decision.

“What I can say is that Mr. Germaine found the college to be reasonable in handling the overall layoff process. Where there were issues, the majority were a result of a significantly compressed timeline that was imposed through a labour relations board solution,” she said.

“I think it also gives us clarity for bargaining discussions in the future,” Henning added.

Oliver says a lot of money could have been saved if the collective agreement had been followed in the first place and a drawn out arbitration avoided.

“It seems like an odd way to spend money when they could have sat down with the union and worked things out,” said Oliver. “We understand there were some financial pressures at Northwest but frankly to decide to bull ahead, it made no sense to anybody.”

Henning said that the college cannot seek to appeal the arbitrator’s decision because it is binding to all parties.