Arbitrator denies faculty union grievance over parking changes at Okanagan College campuses

Faculty lose parking fight

The faculty union has lost a BC Labour Relations Code arbitration ruling after filing a grievance over parking changes at Okanagan College campuses in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton.

The grievance was filed by the Federation of Post Secondary Educators on July 5, 2022, after the college sent a notice about revised parking plans, including increases in on campus paid parking, set to take effect on Sept. 7, 2022.

The union claimed the employer stopped providing free, designated parking spaces, in contravention of the collective agreement. At issue was not the cost of the spaces, which is dealt with as a taxable benefit, but the location.

The parking changes included opening all OC lots in Vernon and Penticton to all students, staff and visitors on a first come, first-served basis. Most lots at OC Kelowna would also move to first-come, first-served for students, staff and visitors. As well, the college announced that it would be moving some 'designated' spots to the Evangel Church at KLO Road and Gordon Drive in Kelowna.

In a bulletin, the college said that the cost to maintain parking lots for all organizations, institutions and businesses was rising, and it had not hiked rates since 2017. It also pointed out that, "designated spaces across all campus lots are clearly marked."

The college’s position was that the spaces met the requirements for free parking under the collective bargaining agreement. The union, however, argued that the spots should all be on-campus and by making staff purchase a parking pass, they were being forced to pay.

In his decision arbitrator Ken Saunders wrote, “the primary issue for determination is whether Article 41.6 requires that the employer designate free parking on campus or whether it may meet that obligation by providing that benefit close to campus.”

He noted that there was no specific language in the agreement saying it had to be on campus, even though that had been the accepted practice for many years.

“Can it thus be concluded that the parties mutually intended that the employer must always locate parking on campus and at spaces reserved exclusively for employees? I conclude the answer is 'No,'” wrote Saunders in denying the grievance.

He also concluded that “access to such parking is free at the respective campuses, recognizing it is conferred as a taxable benefit.”

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