The labour minister has invoked Section 106 of the BC Labour Relations Code less than a handful of times in the last 30 years. It is thus the extraordinary labour dispute that commands the appointment of a Special Officer under the Code. We have compiled an FAQ for members who want to inform themselves about the Section 106 proceedings between UFCW 1518 and Sobeys and how this process relates to negotiations for the reopener of the collective agreement.
Q. What has happened so far?
A. Last March, President Ivan Limpright appealed to the Minster of Labour, Harry Bains, for assistance after negotiations for the reopener of the collective agreement between UFCW 1518 and Sobeys stalled. The company demanded only concessions while the union stood firm in attempting to negotiate a fair collective agreement for all members.
Minister Bains appointed Vince Ready, a well known mediator and arbitrator, as Special Officer under Section 106 of the BC Labour Relations Code. In the event of a dispute relating to the collective agreement, Section 106 allows the labour minister to appoint a Special officer in order to “preserve industrial peace.”
In May, Special Officer Ready met separately with the union bargaining committee and the company. After assessing the parties as being very far apart in their positions (with the company demanding serious concessions and the union refusing to concede) he requested they provide written submissions outlining the major outstanding issues. For the union, this includes its right of first refusal grievance related to the 10 Safeway store closures, the reopener of the collective agreement and Sobeys’ desire for a new banner (FreshCo).
Q: Is the Section 106 process the same as Final Offer Selection?
A: No. The Section 106 proceedings are entirely different, governed by a specific process set out under the BC Labour Relations Code. Vince Ready was appointed as Special Officer by the government to intervene in the dispute between UFCW 1518 and Sobeys, which affects upwards of 4000 Safeway members.
Q: What is the Special Officer able to do?
A: The powers of the Special Officer are outlined in the BC Labour Relations Code:
(2) On his or her appointment, the special officer must investigate the dispute or difference and may
(a) confer with the parties,
(b) hold hearings,
(c) make recommendations,
(d) make orders he or she considers necessary or advisable, including, without limitation, orders that the dispute or difference be submitted to a specified stage or step in the grievance procedure under the collective agreement, or
(e) arbitrate the dispute or difference himself or herself.
Q: I’ve heard that the Sobeys has said that UFCW 1518 is delaying bargaining. What is actually happening?
A: The employer alleges that the union has used stall tactics in order to delay bargaining. In fact, what we have done is responsibly challenge Sobeys’ desire to force major concessions on our members. The union bargaining committee received and reviewed the employer’s written submission and submitted our rebuttal.
Q: What is the timeline for any decisions, orders or recommendations from the Special Officer?
A: This is at the discretion of Special Officer Ready. We have no information about next steps at this time, but will share any new information with members as we receive it. As the Special Officer is on vacation in August, we do not expect to hear anything until after he returns.