When I met with Kiran, Doug, Lisa and Jada (not their real names) in my office a couple years ago, I had no idea how negatively their work situation at SFU was affecting their lives.
These four APSA members are what’s known as “Residence Life Coordinators” or “RLCs,” for short. RLCs have many critical roles, including responding to issues that arise in SFU’s student residences. An individual RLC scheduled for an on-call period might receive calls anytime during their shift. Such calls could be noise complaints, student concerns about safety, or reports of students in severe emotional distress. RLCs were also expected to liaise with security, emergency services, facilities services and be the first response to facilities-related emergencies as well, despite not being part of Facilities Services at SFU.
At the time Kiran, Doug, Lisa and Jada came to see me, they each worked full-time in their roles and were being scheduled for on-call periods that lasted an entire week. Anytime within a 24-hour period during their on-call week, they had to respond to student calls as part of their job.
What made their roles more difficult was that the Community Advisors who assisted them had, at the time, been recently unionized and were no longer scheduled to assist the RLCs with student calls after 11 p.m. Individual RLCs were now having to respond to all calls and concerns—alone— when the Community Advisors were off duty.
As you might imagine, the workload for these four APSA members increased dramatically during overnight on-call times.
In my office that day, Lisa’s week-long on-call shift had just ended, and so she passed the RLC “on-call” phone to Jada. This phone, provided by the University, went with whichever RLC had the next week-long on-call shift.
Jada took the phone and began to cry. “When will I sleep?” she asked. “Calls come anytime, day or night. I hardly get to sleep.”
It was like that for these RLCs: little or no sleep during on-call shifts with serious negative outcomes for their health. When they worked their scheduled 24/7 on-call weeks, they were required to be within twenty minutes of the University residences so that they could respond to calls. They reported that they had little or no time to do those daily living activities we all take for granted—going for groceries, going to medical appointments or just taking some time away from the campus.
I suggested that these four RLCs file a grievance, with APSA’s assistance, to oppose the working conditions that the University had imposed on them. As sometimes happens in such situations, some members are uncomfortable filing grievances, and so we pursued a grievance for only three of the four RLCs who came to us.
We worked to resolve this grievance with the University through the pandemic: to not only improve the working conditions for RLCs, but also to fairly compensate them for the huge amount of overtime that they had to work on their on-call shifts. In our view, Kiran, Doug and Lisa are each owed tens of thousands of dollars in overtime backpay.
After the grievance was filed the University did make changes to the scheduling for the RLCs and added an “overnight assistant” to assist them. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful in our discussions with the University in how to fairly compensate these RLCs for the large amount of overtime that they’d accumulated during their work. Very recently, we filed to take the case to arbitration. (For those of you who don’t know about grievances and arbitration, you can read more about these here.)
I would like to say that resolution of this case by a neutral, third-party arbitrator is coming soon.
Unfortunately, the University is doing their utmost to ensure that’s not the case.
Despite having never raised such an objection in the two years that we’ve been pursuing the grievance, not to mention never raising it in any other grievance or resolution concerning employment standards matters, the University has elected to argue that the arbitrator doesn’t have jurisdiction to rule on this grievance: that this case should’ve been filed as a complaint with the Employment Standards branch.
While that may not seem unreasonable at first blush, we believe that the University is attempting to use a technical legal argument to reduce the amount of overtime compensation each of these RLCs should receive.
Filing an Employment Standards Complaint now may not only not cover the time periods for past overtime compensation when APSA and the RLCs understood and expected the dispute to be dealt with in the grievance/arbitration process – but may be rejected entirely for being out of time. In effect, at best, short-changing Kiran, Doug and Lisa of their rightfully-earned overtime pay, and, at worst, completely denying them any avenue for justice.
Our hope is that the University does the right thing and compensates our members fairly for their unwavering dedication to their jobs and to the students they served in very difficult times.