B.C. Arbitrator decides technological advances altering job operations do not justify wage rate adjustment

February 5, 2021

In a January 29, 2021 decision, Arbitrator John Kinzie found that there was no justification for making an adjustment to the current wage rate of British Columbia Rapid Transit Company’s (the “Employer”) Control Operator positions, a decision that was in favour of the Employer against two grievances filed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 7000 (the “Union”).

The grievances arose as a result of the Employer’s expansion of its SkyTrain system between 2001 to 2016, an automated, driverless system which includes three complete rapid transit lines (i.e. the Expo Line, the Millennium Line and the Evergreen Extension), which has correspondingly brought about a growth in the system’s ridership and the number of cars on the system at any one time. The Union submits that the expansion of the SkyTrain system and new technology had increased the workload, complexity, and the knowledge and skills of the Control Operator positions. As an alternative, the Union also argued that if the change in job duties did not justify a wage increase, that the Control Operator wage rates were ‘under market’ and should be increased on that basis.

The Employer maintained that the Union did not demonstrated that the basic job functions of the position had materially or significantly changed to the degree which would warrant a wage increase.  The Employer argued that while the technologies and work methods have evolved, they had not required the Control Operators to learn any entirely different skill sets to perform those basic job functions.

Arbitrator Kinzie decided that while the advancements of technologies require additional training and recertification requirements on the part of the Control Operators, they are only evolutionary changes to the position and have not altered its core duties or basic job functions in in any substantial or qualitative way. He further concluded that the Control Operator position was in a unique position within a unique light rapid transit system, and therefore its wage rate cannot be analyzed as on/off market as the market could not demonstrate that there exists a prevailing rate for performing control operator work, similar to the work of the Control Operators in the Employer’s operations.

Miller Thomson represented the Employer in the arbitration with a team led by Nicole Byres, Q.C., and including Katie Comley (Labour & Employment).