Kelowna taxi company forced to shelve app plan as union wins fight for jobs | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna taxi company forced to shelve app plan as union wins fight for jobs

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November 15, 2020 - 6:00 AM

A Kelowna taxi company that was planning to layoff its dispatch team and replace them with an app, has been forced to abandon its plan and head back to the table to bargain with the union.

According to a B.C. Labour Relations Board decision, Nov. 12, Kelowna Cabs had issued layoff notices to its employees as it planned to close the dispatch office and start using an app from Dec. 1.

The taxi company said the move was in anticipation of the impact ride-hailing services would have on the business since six rideshare licences had been approved in Kelowna.

However, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378 filed an application arguing Kelowna Cabs failed to bargain in good faith by informing the entire bargaining team they were to be laid off.

The move to layoff the staff is the company's second attempt at layoffs this year.

In May, Kelowna Cabs laid off all its dispatch staff before a move by the union led to mediation that reversed the action and the dispatch team returned to work.

Several months later in August, the two parties returned to the bargaining table and the taxi company laid down an ultimatum.

Kelowna Cabs said that unless a new collective agreement scrapped overtime, sick leave, shift scheduling, or health benefits, the company would not continue to bargain and that it would give staff 90 days notice and then start using an app.

Two days later the Union filed a grievance.

According to the labour board decision, Kelowna Cabs made the move for fear of the impact that ride-hailing would have on the company, as it had severely impacted taxis in other cities where ride-hailing existed.

It's unclear how many ride-hailing companies currently operate in Kelowna, but Kabu and Lucky To Go both launched services over the summer.

The impact ride-hailing companies like Uber and others have had on traditional taxis has been a contentious issue as cities across Canada open up to the new technology. Taxi drivers in Vancouver launched legal action in an effort to block ride-hailing from the Lower Mainland but were unsuccessful.

Along with its concerns about ride-hailing, Kelowna Cabs also says it estimates it has lost 35 per cent of its business due to COVID-19. The company says it depends on tourists for around 70 per cent of its business.

According to the decision, the union argued the employer failed to bargain in good faith and make a reasonable effort to finalize a collective agreement. The union said the company took the position it would replace the dispatch team with an app after less than four hours of bargaining and that its "true motivation" is to "rid itself" of the union and the collective agreement.

The union said that while Kelowna Cabs says it needs to layoff the dispatch team due to the economic impact of ride-hailing, the company failed to show it any financial statements while at the bargaining table.

Kelowna Cabs argued economic and regulatory factors led to its decision to move towards an app and it's unfair for the union to expect it to bargain further under the circumstances. The company stated it has every right to close its dispatch office under the collective agreement.

However, the Labour Board ruled that while the company had every right to raise its concerns about ride-hailing and COVID-19 it made "no meaningful effort at all" to engage in collective bargaining.

"Its approach went beyond hard bargaining and had the predictable effect of destroying the decision-making framework for bargaining," the decision says.

Ultimately, the Labour Board and ordered the two parties to come to a collective agreement no later than Nov. 26. The board also ordered Kelowna Cabs to rescind its layoff notices to the dispatch office.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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