Bargaining Unit Positions May Be Tied to Work Location, Trigger Job Posting and Seniority Rights

In a recent grievance decision between the Limestone District School Board and CUPE Local 1480, Arbitrator Jesse Nyman found that changing a bargaining unit member’s work location may eliminate a position and create a vacancy, triggering the mandatory posting provisions of a collective agreement.

In 2013, the Employer decided to close two of its secondary schools in Kingston, Ontario and to construct a new secondary school. The grievance began when the Employer announced its intention to unilaterally transfer staff from one of the old schools to the new school when it opened.

At arbitration, the Union argued that, when an old school closes, the positions at that school cease to exist and when the new school opens, vacancies will be created that must be posted and filled in accordance with the posting and seniority provisions of the parties’ collective agreements. The Employer defended its intention to simply transfer staff from one school to another by arguing that there were no vacancies created, only a change in work location, and therefore no provisions of the collective agreements applied.

In his decision, the Arbitrator agreed with the Union’s position that the shutting down of the old schools and opening of the new school was a “school closure” within the meaning of the collective agreement. The Arbitrator also accepted the Union’s argument that the collective agreements prohibited the Employer from unilaterally transferring employees from one work location to another when a school closes. Rather, the posting provisions must be applied. The Arbitrator found that this interpretation was supported by the plain language of the agreements and the parties’ past practice regarding school-to-school transfers. The grievance was therefore allowed and the Board was ordered to post the new positions in accordance with the terms of the collective agreements.

This win for the Union highlights that a change of work location, depending on the language of the collective agreement, may trigger a vacancy that requires a position to be posted. This reinforces the importance of seniority rights for workers, which are almost always a key determinant in filling vacant positions.

The Union was represented by Julia Williams of RavenLaw.