The word seniority generally carries a great deal of weight in unionized workplaces. But what is it, exactly, and how does it apply to FSA members?
When dealing with various aspects of employment—which worker chooses their vacation first or the order of layoffs—unions have fought for the principle of seniority. At its most basic, seniority means that longer serving workers accrue additional benefits.
Seemingly in line with this history, the definition of seniority in our Collective Agreement (CA) states that “[r]egular Employees will accrue seniority based on service time…” (Article 7.3.1). In other words, the longer you have worked at BCIT, the more seniority you will have–although this does not include auxiliary employment, such as that of instructors in PTS.
Yet history takes detours. Where seniority meets collegial governance at BCIT, you find a preference for the belief that everyone is equal and deserves an equal vote; equality typically comes ahead of seniority within our CA. So, for instance, these items are not decided by seniority:
- Planning vacation
- Distributing workload
- Planning and implementing a Department’s operations
A senior member of the FSA has no more right to vacation planning than their junior colleague. Similarly, for claims on overtime, there is no requirement that BCIT offer extra paid work to the most senior employee in their Department. With respect to departmental planning and distribution of work, seniority is once again not the driving factor (see Articles 14 and 8.8 – 8.9). Instead, Article 1.8.5 states that “[e]ach member of the Department shall participate in deliberations and decision with a single voice and a single vote.”
This is democratic language. Where the collective agreement bestows powers upon a Department, it is expected that each person in that Department shall deliberate and have equal say in the outcome. This is true in both teaching and non-teaching Departments of regular members. Vacation planning, to give one example, should be accomplished by deliberation and voting, if necessary. To give another, senior regular instructors that have taught a course for many years may lose that course through departmental deliberations and be assigned new courses to teach. As long as the member was given a fair opportunity to deliberate and to vote, there is no violation of the collective agreement.
What about layoffs? Does Seniority play a part?
Layoff is one area where seniority in our collective agreement plays a distinct role (Article 18). Generally, if a Department is provided with a layoff notice from BCIT, and is forced to eliminate workers, seniority is a guiding factor in determining who will keep their job and who will be forced to leave. Those with the least seniority would generally be laid off first (Article 18.3.1).
However, the collective agreement recognizes that normally Departments must first canvas what essential skills they need (see Article 126.96.36.199 and subsequent), and may keep a more junior colleague in favour of a senior one, where the senior lacks the essential qualifications of the junior.
For example, a hypothetical Department that teaches art history may decide Renaissance Italian art is essential, but an expertise in 20th Century Pop Art is not. A senior member that could only teach Pop Art could be released in favour of a junior colleague that could teach the other subject.
The layoff article is therefore not guided exclusively by seniority. If it were, it would be a matter of “here is your rank in the Department and the lowest ranking get laid off first.” Instead, the collective agreement contemplates that seniority may be outranked by essential qualifications.
In short, it is valuable to be senior in a layoff, but not a guarantee.
Part-Time Studies: Seniority is not part of the right to be re-hired
For instructors in PTS, your key right is to be rehired, as stated in Article 188.8.131.52.7. The Article says, simply, that unless the employer provides stated reasons to the contrary, those instructors can expect to be hired again.
This language of rehire does not contemplate seniority. For instance, a senior instructor in PTS does not have a claim over other courses taught by more junior instructor, even in an economic contraction. Nor can an instructor in PTS assert a seniority claim over a new course that no one has taught before.
The right of instructors in PTS to rehire, said one arbitrator, was not simple, but it could never be reduced to seniority, and was much more egalitarian than simple seniority.
Various past practices and memoranda of agreement also complicate the area of PTS rights. For anyone with questions about their specific situation in PTS instruction and seniority, please contact the FSA.
George Talbott (he/him/his), Senior Labour Relations RepresentativeLeave a reply →