February 6, 2015
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In recent unreported arbitration decision, Re: Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association and Canada Post Corporation (January 14, 2015) (Oakley), the arbitrator confirmed that an “obey now, grieve later” rule applies to management in some cases. The requirement, similar to workers’ “work now, grieve later” obligation, arises where management and the union have negotiated a requirement that specified actions not proceed without consultation and approval of the union.

In this case, a Letter of Understanding between Canada Post and the union required the company to obtain the approval of the union prior to reducing the Saturday hours of a post office. The union was obliged to not unreasonably withhold that agreement. In July 2012, Canada Post decided to eliminate Saturday hours at its Englee Post Office in Newfoundland. The Saturday closure was opposed by Englee’s Town Council, which was concerned about post office access for its “commuter” population and seniors, both of which required access on the weekend. The Town Council passed a resolution expressing its concerns, and also petitioned the House of Commons.

Canada Post held a consultation meeting to discuss the proposed changes, which were rooted in concerns about declining revenue and customers. The union opposed the reduction in hours. Its opposition was based on the serious concerns expressed by the community and Town Council, and that the union considered any proposed Saturday closure of a post office on a case-by-case basis. In the end, Canada Post unilaterally eliminated Saturday hours at the post office. The union filed a grievance.

The union (represented by our firm), argued that Canada Post’s actions were in violation of the collective agreement and the Letter of Understanding concerning Saturday hours of service. Its position was that Canada Post could not close the post office on Saturdays without first obtaining the union’s agreement, and that the company was required to first grieve the withholding of consent if it believed that the union was unreasonable in its refusal. Canada Post believed that the union violated the collective agreement by unreasonably withholding its agreement to the Saturday closure.

The arbitrator focused on the following question: if an employer believes that the union is in violation of its obligations under the collective agreement, what must it do? In the present case, the arbitrator determined that it was unnecessary for the Letter of Understanding to explicitly require Canada Post to file a grievance before proceeding with the Saturday closure. If the company believed that the union had unreasonably withheld its agreement, then it was required to first file a grievance before taking further steps to reduce the Saturday hours. The company could not simply proceed without the union’s agreement.

Although there may be limited situations were an exception applies, the arbitrator concluded that management was bound by an obligation analogous the “work now, grieve later” principle that applies to workers. As a result, this decision confirms that there are situations where management must also “obey now, grieve later.”

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2017 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

Service: Labour Law