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[UPDATED]:Tow truck dispatchers locked out after cap kerfuffle

The B.C. Automobile Association locked out approximately 70 tow truck dispatchers on Monday, after contract negotiations between the company and the dispatchers’ union fell apart.

The B.C. Automobile Association locked out approximately 70 tow truck dispatchers on Monday, after contract negotiations between the company and the dispatchers’ union fell apart.

The members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378 wore hats to work on Friday in violation of the company’s dress code, as part of their limited job action. Soon after, BCAA served the members with lockout notice, according to the vice-president of Local 378, Heather Lee.

“Basically, they kidded on Friday when they came into work wearing hats from their home wardrobe, just trying to get the employers’ attention, to say let’s get back to the bargaining table,” she told the NOW.

However, Brenda Lowden, BCAA vice-president and chief people officer, said the lockout had nothing to do with the employees wearing hats.

"The union issued 72-hour strike notice on May 29, and then refused to share any details of that strike plan with us," she said, adding the company found out the employees were sharing call scripts, where the union would be passing on messages to the members, and slowing down the call queue. "When we found out about that, we had no choice but to issue lockout notice. The union then engaged in a fullscale unscheduled break, and that left noone answering phone calls in our road assist emergency call centre. 

"We realized, as a result of that, we have to take action and implement a lockout to ensure that our service is never interrupted like that," she added.

The dispatchers’ contract expired last September. Throughout the bargaining process, members held two strike votes – one in January, with members voting 94 per cent in favour of a strike, and one on May 25, with members voting 79 per cent in favour of strike action. On Friday morning, BCAA also informed the members the company would not be accepting vacation requests from them.

The company locked the employees out at 4 p.m. sharp on June 8, according to Lee.

“It was actually rather bizarre. Our members were basically interrupted mid-call, and the call was put on hold, and the members were asked to leave the building,” she said.

The company commenced with the lockout due to concerns that services to BCAA members were being affected by the dispute, according to Lowden.

“We saw evidence of some disruptive activity,” she said. “So when that happens, our service is first and foremost paramount to our members. They need to know that they’ll continue to get the service that they expect. And if we see any evidence of that not being able to be delivered, we felt we had to take action.”

Management is covering all the calls and dispatching drivers as needed, she added.

COPE 378 members have set up a picket line outside the BCAA Road Assist Contact Centre on Goring Street in Burnaby.

The primary issue between the two parties is compensation. According to the union, employees of BCAA’s car sharing company, who do similar tasks, work 35 hours a week and are paid the same wages as the COPE 378 members, who work 40 hours a week.

But the company feels the compensation it is offering is adequate, according to Lowden.

“BCAA provides fair compensation to all its employees and we will always be equitable everyone, and that’s a history that we’ve got,” she said.

Both sides say they want to get back to the bargaining table.

“Hopefully common sense will prevail, which would be fair and equitable treatment of COPE 378 members,” Lee said.

The company is primarily concerned with making sure that calls from members are handled and that service levels remain the same, according to Lowden.

“We want to get back to the table but in the meantime we just need to focus to ensure we provide that member service that they expect,” she said.

June 9, 2015, 11:55 a.m. Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Brenda Lowden, BCAA vice-president and chief people officer, as saying the company saw evidence of "destructive activity." That should have read "disruptive activity."