CHAUDHRI: When unions behave badly

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As the majority of Canadians are now double vaccinated we can all agree there is truth to the oft used adage ‘there is strength in numbers.’

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As vaccination numbers crept up, the wheels of our economy rolled forth, week by week, unveiling our cities anew. Jab by jab, our country is getting strong again.

The popularity of vaccination gave strength to employers too — encouraging them to create vaccination mandates to coax employees back into work with promises of safety and a return to pre-pandemic life.

Government agencies at every level have mandated vaccination, facing little resistance from unions that understood the common goal to return employees to meaningful work. Many unionized jobs cannot, after all, be completed from home.

In stark contrast to this concerted effort was the response by the union representing TTC employees. ATU local 113 called on its membership to not disclose vaccination status to the TTC by its deadline of Sept. 30.

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In the days leading up to the deadline, 50% of TTC employees complied. This despite the fact that across our province we must show proof of vaccination in most places like the gyms and restaurants to keep our economy going.

The TTC was left shooting darts in the dark, presumably wondering how it can provide a safe riding experience to Toronto riders when scores of its own employees may be unvaccinated and interacting with them.

  1. Lawyer Sunira Chaudhri is a Partner at Workly Law.

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Asking TTC employees not to share their vaccination status placed their jobs in jeopardy. If they failed to disclose, employees that showed loyalty to their union leaders could have been left unemployed with little reprieve. Safety always trumps employee privacy.

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Perhaps appreciating the risks of the non-disclosure directive, on Sept. 29, just a day before the deadline, ATU local 113 President Carlos Santos released a notice to its membership: “Myself and the Executive Board of ATU Local 113 are now asking that on or before September 30th, 2021, members comply with the vaccination status disclosure set out in the TTC’s policy.”

While local 113’s ultimate move to backdown from its position was the right thing to do, it did a disservice to its membership by taking a polarizing position that caused divisiveness and distrust.

Local 113 has still maintained it will move forward to an arbitration on the mandatory vaccination issue. My guess is the majority of TTC employees are vaccinated and don’t want the distraction, don’t want to be at odds with their employer, and want work and their lives to get back to normal.

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Now more than ever, unions have a critical role to play in shaping the day-to-day working lives of thousands of employees as our economy gains steam. Unions must use their power judiciously. After all, there is strength in numbers.

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On to this week’s questions:

Q. My employer reduced my hours to 15 hours a week now that it has reopened. My hours used to be 30 hours per week before the pandemic started. I know my employer has struggled really hard over the last year but I can’t afford this reduction in pay. Is my only choice to go get a new job if I can’t accept the lower pay and the lower hours?

A. First, confirm with your employer in writing that you would like to return to your previous work schedule and ask to be reinstated to your old schedule. Sometimes that does the trick. If your employer refuses, you may have a claim for constructive dismissal given the change in hours and pay. That said, the pandemic has caused many employers to change hours and pay and employees have accepted these changes. If you have been working a reduced schedule for more than a year, your employer may not be legally required to return you to your previous schedule. Try to find a solution that works for both of you.

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Q. I have worked at my company for almost 18 years doing different things but lately it has been mainly IT focused. They are suggesting I resign or “retire” and that I can continue on as a consultant at a set hourly rate. I can see how this might make me more money, and get me a much-needed tax break, but I am wondering what happens to my years of service. If I take the consulting role will my years of service still be recognized if I get fired later?

A. If your employer is asking you to resign it is unlikely that they will recognize your years of service down the line. It is possible the consultant role they contemplate is meant to be an Independent contractor role where you will not necessarily have any job security or guaranteed pay. Your benefits and other perks like pension or RRSP matching will end. My advice is that before you do anything like resigning, get any offer reviewed by a lawyer. Failing to may jeopardize your many years of service.

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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