Dispatchers at Kelowna Cabs will keep their jobs for now after the company unsuccessfully tried to replace them with a web-based application.
According to a Nov. 12 B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) decision, Kelowna Cabs tried to lay off its eight dispatch employees twice over the past year. Both attempts were successfully challenged by the dispatchers’ union.
In May, the cab company laid off all dispatch staff without notice, prompting an application from the union which resulted in the full complement of employees returning to work.
On Aug. 26, the parties resumed bargaining, but Kelowna Cabs would not sign off on a collective agreement unless the union agreed to eliminate overtime, sick leave, shift scheduling or health benefits.
The next day, Kelowna Cabs sent an email to the union stating it did not intend to continue collective bargaining, instead opting to move to an app-based dispatch system by Dec. 1 and lay off the dispatch employees.
The cab company stated the decision was made in response to the anticipated impact of ride-sharing. Currently, two services are operational in the city — Kabu and Lucky To Go — but ride-sharing giant Uber is eyeing a Kelowna expansion before 2021.
In addition, the company cited the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the taxi industry in Kelowna, which it stated “depends 70 per cent” on tourists. It said it expected to lose 35 per cent of its business due to the pandemic. While the company stated it needed to lay off the dispatch staff due to the loss of business, it did not disclose financial information to prove that.
The union argued that Kelowna Cabs failed to make a reasonable effort to come to an agreement, stating the company “threatened to replace the bargaining unit with a web-based dispatching app” after fewer than four hours of bargaining. That, the union stated, reflected the company’s motivation to “rid itself” of the union and a collective agreement.
The company stated it was unfair for the union to expect it to bargain collectively in the context of the pandemic and struggling cab business.
In its decision, the LRB stated Kelowna Cabs was entitled to raise its concerns about the impact of ride-sharing and the COVID-19 pandemic, but it made “no meaningful effort at all to engage with the union in collective bargaining.”
The board ordered Kelowna Cabs to rescind the layoff notices and return to the bargaining table with the union to establish a collective agreement to begin Nov. 26.
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