CUPE grievance against hospital’s new shift-switching policy upheld, previous arbitration cited

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In a recent labor dispute, a union’s grievance against a hospital concerning employee shift exchanges has been upheld.

The central issue revolves around a new policy from Trillium Health Partners that denies employees the ability to request “multiple switch requests” or “double switches,” meaning once a particular shift has been switched, it can no longer be switched again.

Background: The Slotnick Award

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 5180, argued that the policy violates their collective agreement and drew attention to a similar case from 2017 involving the hospital, known as the Slotnick award.

In that arbitration, arbitrator Lorne Slotnick ruled in favor of CUPE, stating that limiting the number of shift switches was in conflict with the collective agreement. Since then, the hospital has generally permitted employees to request as many shift switches as they wish.

Hospital’s justification for policy change

Sandy Balappa, the manager of patient support services at the hospital, testified that a significant increase in the number of shift change requests necessitated the new policy.

According to Balappa, the shift change requests skyrocketed from 93 in a six-week period before the Slotnick award to 650 in a similar timeframe in 2023. The hospital added two part-time positions solely to manage the shift exchange requests but has struggled to keep up.

Balappa cited administrative burdens and the potential for errors affecting patient care as reasons for the change.

However, under cross-examination, Balappa conceded that “no shows” could still happen irrespective of shift exchanges and acknowledged that the union’s employee count had increased by almost 40% since the Slotnick award was given. The hospital also admitted that, apart from administrative difficulties, no additional costs were incurred due to shift switches.

The hospital argued that the collective agreement’s language allows it to limit further exchanges, claiming it as a matter of management rights. Meanwhile, the union posited that each shift switch request should be considered individually as per their collective agreement, making the new policy a violation.

Decision and analysis

The final decision strongly disagreed with the hospital’s interpretation, concluding that the new policy is not consistent with the Slotnick award and contradicts the collective agreement.

The arbitrator highlighted that the hospital’s decision to unilaterally limit further shift exchanges was not supported by the language in the agreement and couldn’t be reconciled with past practices where multiple switches were allowed.

Consequently, the Union’s grievance was allowed, ruling that the Hospital’s blanket prohibition on multiple switches violates the collective agreement.

For more information, see Canadian Union of Public Emploees, Local 5180 v Trillium Health Partners, 2023 CanLII 80177 (ON LA)

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