The BC Labour Relations Board has found the AMS guilty of unfair labour practices after a manager in their Catering and Conference department texted an employee to vote against the unionization process. The board also found it likely that they paid two employees to increase incentive and reward to vote — hoping that the employees in question would not vote for unionization.
On August 31, 2015, a group of servers and banquet captains working in the AMS Student Nest on the UBC campus had a vote regarding whether or not they would join moveUP, a union which already represents the AMS’s administrative and security staff. The Labour Relations Board found the proposed bargaining unit inappropriate for collective bargaining and the vote was dismissed without the ballot box being opened.
In February 2016, the union submitted an application to include a group of servers and banquet captains working in the Nest into an existing bargaining unit of security employees. The application was dismissed in the AMS’s favour, as was the union’s alternative application for a stand-alone unit of servers and banquet captains in the Catering and Conference department. Before the final verdict was delivered for this previous case however, a second application was filed by the union citing the AMS’s unfair labour practices surrounding the vote.
The union submitted this second application after they were approached with information surrounding the circumstances of the vote.
“It’s the typical brown paper envelope under the door,” said acting president of moveUP, Lori Mayhew. “We were contacted with some information and then a little bit of detective work that led to finding out about this. So we brought an application to the board that it was unfair labour practices.”
As soon as the application was brought to the attention of the AMS, they engaged in a fact-finding process. This is when the text messages implicating the AMS in unfair labour practices were found.
“We submitted the mistake text [to the Labour Relations Board]. We have nothing to hide. As soon as we found the text — and it was an accident — as soon as the text was found we acted immediately to submit it to the labour board,” said AMS President Ava Nasiri.
The Labour Relations Board, after reviewing the messages and receiving testimony, declared that the AMS has committed unfair labour practices under Section 6(1) and 6(3)(d) of the Labour Relation Code.
Following this declaration, they ordered the AMS against committing further violation of the code and told them to pay damages to the union so as to equal the union’s legal costs. They also ordered the AMS to e-mail copies of this decision to the employees on the voters list.
As a part of this decision, the Labour Relations Board noted the following:
“The pattern of all of the evidence before me leads me to make the finding that it is more likely than not that the Employer paid Sangha for a shift not worked on the day of the vote in order to provide Sangha with an incentive and reward to vote, hoping she would vote against the Union. While there was no evidence that Boutrin had tried to specifically enlist Sangha to vote against the Union as she had with Doyle, I find the Employer’s payment of Sangha for work not done was also improper and in violation of Sections 6(1) and 6(3)(d).”
However, the AMS has been very clear in noting that the final verdict of the proceeding relates to a single text sent by the manager.
“To be very clear, the final verdict here (Section 5) is pointed very specifically to the one text message that was sent from the manager to that one single employee and that is the main objective of this proceeding,” said Nasiri. “With regards to the rest of the dialogue surrounding payment of employees and compensation for hours worked, that is not something that was further explored with regards to the final verdict of this proceeding.”
Nasiri also noted that the AMS has the opportunity to appeal and emphasizes that the document detailing the Labour Relations Board’s decision does not accurately represent what happened.
“The reason that the AMS did not appeal the decision was purely out of fiscal responsibility and spending of student fees. We were advised by our legal team that it would result in more expenses. An appeal would have allowed more of the AMS side of the situation to be portrayed in evidence of all documents that have been made public,” said Nasiri. “However, we decided for the time being not to proceed with an appeal for the decision made, which results in the documents that you see not quite painting the full picture.”
In terms of the actual declarations and orders delivered by the Labour Relations Board, Nasiri said the AMS is still in talks with their lawyers.
“In terms of the legal fees, that is a conversation that is still happening with our lawyers and that is something I can’t comment on at the moment. However, I would like to be very clear in noting that all of this is surrounding one text in which a manager asked an employee to vote in a particular fashion,” said Nasiri.
When it comes to the question of whether Doyle and Sangha were paid by Christine Boutrin — the manager that documentation refers to — to vote against joining the union or to motivate them to vote against joining the union, Nasiri insisted that that was not something that would ever happen within the AMS.
“Personally, she wouldn’t do that. The manager in question has been a wonderful employee of the AMS and she made a mistake, but her mistake had to do with the one particular text message that was sent. We are not the type of organization that will pay employees to vote in a particular fashion. These text messages sent and submitted were simply sent and submitted to display the two types of conversations to admit the mistake and to provide background on a regularized conversation. The shifts that were worked and the shifts that were scheduled, all employees that came in were paid for the shifts that were worked. Perhaps it may be painted by other groups that there was something else going on, however the shifts were scheduled and those employees showed up,” said Nasiri.
When it comes to the consequences of the issue, the two parties — once again — diverge hugely on scope.
“The immediate consequence is that they have to pay us money for all the work that we had to do around this unfair labour practice. But the ultimate price they’re paying is that the AMS is fighting students with their own money. The fallout from that could be huge for them,” said Mayhew on behalf of the union.
Nasiri, however, states the consequences to have more to do with opportunities for learning and making sure that the AMS’s values are clearly communicated.
“In response to that, I feel that the short-term implications are that we look at this as an opportunity for learning, particularly for our newer managers that are not familiar with these types of situations. When they are given the opportunity to act in a role of leadership — and ensuring that as we have always done our best to do — the expectations of the labour board are exceeded and the AMS remains an upstanding employer within our community. In terms of long-term impacts, I think it’s important for us to be able to very clearly articulate the type of organization that the AMS is as a non-profit student society, ultimately here to serve students. In that, there may be attempts to paint a picture without the full context.
“We never plan for accidents,” said Nasiri.
While the AMS fully admits to the sending of one mistaken text, Nasiri also emphasized that the AMS supports anything that serves students — including unions.
“Ultimately, the AMS is here to serve students and we strive to ensure that all of our student-staff have as much flexibility as they need to have an enriching experience — both as students on this campus and as employees of the AMS. If any students or any departments within the AMS sense that they can better achieve that flexibility, then ultimately that’s their choice. We really do depend on positive relationships with quite a few of our external partners that are unions,” said Nasiri.
The group of Catering and Conference staff is still in talks with moveUp about joining the union.
“They’re still working with us, they’re still strongly on our side and we’re in constant contact with them,” said Mayhew.
This article previously inaccurately stated that the union lost the vote on August 31, 2015. The Ubyssey regrets this error.