Coastline Forestry Group Inc. v United Steelworkers, Local 1-1937, 2018 CanLII 74197 (BC LA)
The employer introduced tethered feller-bunchers (mechanical tree harvesters) in their operation during the same month it laid off its only two hand fallers.
The tethering system enabled the feller-bunchers to harvest steeper slopes and rough terrain which previously required hand fallers.
The issue at arbitration was whether this constituted a technological change pursuant to a collective agreement clause which requires the Employer to provide notice and severance pay when instituting “changes in working methods or facilities which would involve the discharge or laying off of employees”.
Arbitrator Ken Saunders accepted the hand fallers layoffs were connected to the introduction of the tethering system and this was a “change in working methods” as that phrase has been defined in the arbitral jurisprudence.
He rejected the employer’s suggestion that the changes were simply incremental improvements (para. 50). The employer’s assertion the equipment was introduced to enhance safety did not mean it could not also be a technological change (para. 53). Accordingly, the hand fallers were entitled to severance under the technological change provision.
Arbitrator Saunders accepted the Union’s argument the employees and the Union should receive damages for the Employer’s failure to provide notice of the technological change as required by the collective agreement, at paragraph 63:
The Union and the hand-fallers have also lost the benefit of six months notice of intent to institute changes to working methods. I fully adopt Arbitrator Munroe’s observation in MacMillan Bloedel (Alberni Pacific) supra. at para. 22, that the thrust of what is Article VI before me is to provide: “a joint endeavour to…ameliorate the effect of the changes.”; and further; “That being so, it should be viewed as a matter of substance. Once again, to brush aside this part of the bargain would be to create a wrong without a remedy.”
Accordingly he awarded lost wages and benefits for six-months to compensate the hand fallers for the Employer’s failure to provide notice.
He also awarded the Union $2,000 in damages for the lost opportunity to take ameliorative steps and to incentivise future compliance with the notice provisions (paras. 65-66).