Karine Kergoat’s observations, Alternate RVP CSC for the Quebec Region, at the Public Service Labour Relations Board

A rewarding experience I want to share with you. 

I was invited to participate, as an observer, at the hearing of the Cook-Chill policy grievance filed by the PSAC, held before the Public Service Labour Relations Board in Ottawa on October 15 and 16, 2014. 

On the morning of the hearing, I arrived at the hearing room to meet with the PSAC people. The grievance and arbitration agent in this case is Amarkai Laryea (a seasoned attorney) is accompanied by David Orfald, who acts as an advisor and will act as a witness for the PSAC, and by Howie West who also acts as an advisor and will take the minutes at the hearing. There is also another observer, the alternate RVP for Ontario, Mr. Bill Bailey. The PSAC representative explains the process for the hearing and advises us to take notes in order to provide talking points during breaks. Shortly afterwards, the employer’s lawyer, Sean Kelly, arrives with his colleagues. 

The arbitrator enters the room and gives instructions concerning the use of cell phones and recording equipment. There is only one rule and it is strict: their use is prohibited. Then, documents approved by both parties are filed and we are ready to begin. The PSAC representative recounts the background of the situation that led to the filing of the complaint and ends by asking three questions to which the arbitrator must give priority attention: 

  1. Has CSC violated the collective agreement by limiting salary protection to one level?
  2. According to the Workforce Adjustment policy, can the position of FOS-03 be considered a reasonable job offer?
  3. Has CSC violated the collective agreement by advising employees to resign before being hired as FOS-03s?

Counsel for CSC then makes a short presentation on the centralization of kitchens and announces its line of defense: alleging a Reasonable Job Offer. 

The first witness, David Orfald, is called to the bar. After a summary of his professional experience, he answers several questions from the PSAC representative, supplying details when queried by the arbitrator. I can only admire his confidence, his calm and his more than in-depth knowledge of the case. Counsel for the employer then proceeds to counter-examine him by asking a few more or less relevant questions, and then goes back to the notion of a reasonable job offer. This all takes place over a period of about 90 minutes, and it is during that time that I realize that we are facing a real court and that the work done by our representatives is colossal. 

After the lunch break, the employer’s witness comes to the bar. Mr. Greg Hall, asserts his professional credentials and answers various questions from the employer’s counsel as well as from the arbitrator. He briefly describes the tasks involved and an approximation of the salaries of the various FOS positions. The PSAC representative counter-interrogates him by asking several questions, all of them relevant, which, for this reason, destabilizes the witness. On several occasions, Mr. Hall attempts to avoid answering, but the arbitrator insists that he does. Counsel for the employer comes back to ask the witness a final question, and the day is done. 

I was not sure what to expect when I attended this hearing, but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the PSAC representative. The points made were strong and well supported. 

The next day, we were treated to the argument. Both parties attempt to buttress their points and, thereby, weaken those of their adversary by quoting various decisions. The PSAC representative is the first to make his plea and will have the opportunity to revisit some of the points following the employer’s counsel plea. The representatives demonstrate excellent knowledge of the law and jurisprudence and display their oratorical skills. I sincerely believe that this is the high point of the hearing, and also the most stressful one. 

The process will end with the arbitrator’s decision, but we will have to await it for a few weeks. 

As I wrote this down, I asked myself the following question: What is the best advice I could give to the members of our union after this enriching experience? It would, in my view, to invite members and our union stewards to clearly identify the nature of a complaint and link it to the relevant sections of the collective agreement, because the wording of a grievance can make all the difference between its reception and rejection. 

Karine Kergoat 
Alternate RVP USGE CSC Québec 
President, Section 10167, La Macaza