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Labour Relations Board rules in favour of GFL Squamish workers' union

Board approves vote-count for a proposal to add Abbotsford and Chilliwack GFL workers to Squamish's bargaining unit.
A vehicle in the GFL yard in Squamish. | Steven Chua

The Labour Relations Board has ruled in favour of a union representing some Squamish workers at Green For Life (GFL), following a dispute over a proposal to add employees from other locations to its bargaining unit.

On June 23, the Labour Relations Board, or LRB, published a written decision in a matter involving GFL, and the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115.

Local 115 sought to add employees working at Abbotsford and Chilliwack into its existing bargaining unit, which encompasses nearly 50 unionized Squamish workers.

"I am persuaded that a rational and defensible line can be drawn around the proposed expanded unit, and it is appropriate for collective bargaining," reads the decision by LRB vice-chair Stephanie Drake. "This expanded unit structure is also consistent with the building block approach, which facilitates access to collective bargaining and promotes industrial stability."

As a result, the board approved a vote-count for the proposal to add Abbotsford and Chilliwack GFL workers to Squamish's bargaining unit.

GFL’s general manager in Squamish said she was not allowed to comment on the matter but said she had forwarded the request to someone who could speak to media.

The Squamish Chief contacted GFL by phone and several email addresses. The company did not respond to any inquiries before press deadline.

Drake ordered that the worker ballots cast with respect to the proposal be unsealed and counted.

In her decision, she examined the arguments put forth by both GFL and the union.

She recounted that the employer was against the proposal to include the Abbotsford and Chilliwack workers in the bargaining unit.

According to the decision, GFL's position was that the work at the Squamish operation was different from the other locations.

"[GFL] says all sites deal with waste management generally, but employees have different duties, training, and job requirements and operate different equipment in different working conditions, such as harsher winter conditions in Squamish and longer driving distances per day in Abbotsford and Chilliwack," Drake wrote.

She also said the employer pointed out that the Abbotsford and Chilliwack operations are significantly geographically separated from the Squamish operation.

The union, however, pointed out similarities between the operations, according to Drake.

"The union says the core services provided at the Squamish operation and the Abbotsford and Chilliwack operations are the same — the collection and processing of waste in the form of recycling, organics, and garbage. It says specialty services provided at each location are ancillary," reads her decision.

"The union says employees in all three locations operate and maintain various waste collections vehicles and bins. It says the employer's customers include small businesses with one location; large, multi-location businesses; multi-family housing complexes; and municipalities."

Drake wrote the union argued employees of GFL share a broad community of interest as they work for the same company and perform the same or similar work.

Ultimately, Drake decided in favour of the union's arguments.

"I find the skills, duties, interests, and working conditions between the Squamish operation and the Abbotsford and Chilliwack operations are similar. Employees at all of the locations at issue are involved in collections and maintenance and, in the case of the Abbotsford transfer station, post-collections," she wrote.

"The employer's administrative structure has some company-wide and some site-specific aspects. Overall, I conclude the site-specific aspects do not weigh against an expanded bargaining unit."

A business representative of IUOE Local 115 told The Squamish Chief on July 13 that upon counting the ballots, workers had voted just under 60% in favour of merging the Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Squamish operations into one bargaining unit.

However, Simon Thomsen said GFL has filed an appeal for the labour board to reconsider its decision. He said it could take months before the board informs the parties whether it will entertain the request.

In the meantime, the union will go about the business of bringing the workers together as one bargaining unit.