AH – 498
IN THE MATTER OF AN ARBITRATION
VIA RAIL CANADA INC.
BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS
RE: LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEER TRAINING SELECTION
GRIEVANCE RE INTERVIEW PROCESS
SOLE ARBITRATOR: Michel G. Picher
APPEARING FOR THE BROTHERHOOD:
J. L. Shields – Legal Counsel, Ottawa
Scott Chamberlain – Legal Counsel, Ottawa
John Tofflemire – General Chairman, Oakville
APPEARING FOR THE CORPORATION:
E. J. Houlihan – Senior Manager, Labour Relations, Montreal
Melanie Bastien – Labour Relations Officer, Montreal
APPEARING FOR THE OBSERVER:
Frank O’Neil – Labour Relations Associate, CNR, MacMillan Yard
A hearing in this matter was held in Montreal on November 29, 2000
AWARD OF THE ARBITRATOR
The Arbitrator has been requested to hear a series of grievances relating to the process adopted by the Corporation for selecting conductors for training as locomotive engineers. The locomotive engineer training program is the product of a Article 4 of the Joint Training Program Agreement negotiated between the Corporation and the Brotherhood, a document dated May 21, 1998, which is appended by reference to the parties’ Crew Consist Adjustment Agreement of June 12, 1998. Article 4 of the Joint Training Program Agreement sets out the steps for the selection of candidates for locomotive engineer training. It is agreed that several steps are to be followed, including the assessment of personal work habits, medical and physical fitness, mechanical aptitudes, learning skills and a personal interview.
The instant award concerns the final step, the interview process adopted by the Corporation as the ultimate hurdle for employees otherwise qualified to enter the locomotive engineer training program. It is common ground that of some 145 applicants fifty-five were successful in qualifying for the training course. A further twenty-two employees were reinstated into the process by decisions of this Arbitrator as a result of grievances dealing with earlier phases of the aptitude assessment, most notably the work habits assessment and mechanical aptitudes. With respect to the interview stage there are some eight who grieve their removal from the process for having failed the interview, each of which is dealt with separately in companion awards issued on this same date.
This award concerns a number of general challenges made to the interview process by the Brotherhood. I deem it appropriate to deal with those issues separately, as determinations in relation to these issues may have a bearing on the individual grievances to be considered. Before turning to the merits of the Brotherhood’s position it may be noted that the facts in relation to the interview process are not in substantial dispute. The interview itself was fashioned by the Corporation following the agreement of the Brotherhood as to personal interviews being the final component of the selection process. A Brotherhood representative was present and participated actively in the administration of each interview. All interviewees were presented with the same series of written questions, read to them verbally, covering the following five areas of ability:
1. Decision making skills and ability to work under minimal supervision
2. Teamwork and customer services orientation
3. Dealing with stressful situations
4. Ability to respond in emergency situations
5. Communication skills
Employees were required to successfully pass each of the five sections of the interview to succeed. The interviewers were in possession of an answer sheet which listed several possible answers for each question, with a corresponding set of marks for each answer. The interview panel consisted of a Corporation Human Resources representative, two Customer Services Management representatives, one with running trades experience and the other with experience, if possible, as a director, and finally a representative from the Brotherhood.
The first and most fundamental position of the Brotherhood is that it was inappropriate for the Corporation to require the passing of the interview test as a precondition to admission into the locomotive engineer training program. Its counsel submits that the Corporation could not reasonably disqualify candidates who would otherwise appear to be suited for inclusion in the locomotive engineer training program by reason of their service and experience in the field as conductors, and the successful demonstration of their qualifications in all other respects within the steps of the process agreed between the parties. In other words, to place the interview on an all-or-nothing basis is, the Brotherhood submits, unreasonable and out of keeping with accepted jurisprudence. In support of its position the Brotherhood cites a number of authorities, including Re Fairview Home Inc. and Fairview Nurses M.N.U. (1991), 21 L.A.C. (4th) 223 (Cherniack); Re Greater Niagara General Hospital (1997), 60 L.A.C. (4th) 289 (Devlin). Reference is also made to CROA 2762, a 1996 award between the Corporation and the United Transportation Union where the arbitrator commented, in relation to the training obligation under the collective agreement there in issue:
It is clear from the language of article 57.4 that, in the event a training program is established, senior qualified conductors and yard foremen on the bulletined territory are to have the fullest consideration in being selected as candidates.
In addition however, as regards the interview process, the Brotherhood stresses that with respect to each of the unsuccessful candidates the following facts are established:
The candidates were:
(a) not advised of the structure of the training selection process;
(b) not advised that the training selection process would include a personality profile test, mechanical aptitude test and oral interview;
(c) not advised of the criteria for success or method of evaluation for any portion of the selection process;
(d) not informed that the interview was rules-related;
(e) not advised that they would be graded;
(f) not advised that the speed with which they responded to the questions would be a factor in assessing their performance;
The Brotherhood also submits that certain of the questions were unreasonable and unfair, as the answers required knowledge of newly established operations which came into being only after the commencement of the New Era of Passenger Operations (NEPO) which involved the abolishment of the conductors’ positions. It is also submitted that the interview failed to take into account certain regional discrepancies, as for example the fact that cell phones are not standard equipment on trains operating in the mountain regions of the west, as they are elsewhere.
Counsel for the Brotherhood stresses that the interview test adopted by the Corporation differs substantially from the model upon which it is based, namely the interview document utilized by CN for the selection of its engine service employees. Notably, he stresses that the CN interview gives more generous instructions to the interview panel with respect to allowing the prompting of answers for candidates, allows a substantially broader discretion to accept different possible answers and is far less stringent with respect to marking.
Finally, counsel for the Brotherhood submits that placing full weight on a candidate’s failure to properly answer a specific question does not, of itself, negate that individual’s qualifications in such areas as responding in emergency situations, being customer oriented or demonstrating communication skills. He submits that those abilities are amply demonstrated, and can be verified, by reference to the prior service of the candidates, and that positive records in that regard should not be ignored or discounted by reason of an incorrect answer in a single interview. In support of that proposition specific reference is made to Re Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, Local 9-14 and Polymer Corporation Ltd. (1968) 19 L.A.C. 386 (Weatherill).
Counsel for the Corporation submits that the interview process adopted by the employer is generally in keeping with the understanding of the parties, and uniquely involved the participation of a Brotherhood representative in each of the interviews. He stresses that with respect to passenger service the Corporation is justified in taking a more stringent approach to the interview process than might be the case with a railway dealing principally in freight service. Counsel further argues that the candidates were not in fact specifically questioned as to operating rules, but rather were questioned as to the way they would deal with specific fact situations, as a means of testing their general abilities in the five areas under examination. Noting that a substantial number of candidates were obviously able to pass the interview without difficulty, counsel maintains that there was nothing unfair or unreasonable in the choice of questions, the list of possible answers and the marks ascribed to each of them in the formulation of the written interview.
Turning to the merits of the dispute, the Arbitrator cannot sustain the general objection of the Brotherhood to the interview process, to the extent that it submits that the interview results cannot, in any case, be used to exclude an individual from the locomotive engineer training program. I accept the general principles contained within the jurisprudence cited by the Brotherhood, however each case must be determined on its own facts, and in the instant case specific reference must be had to established norms within the railway industry. It is not disputed that the Corporation modelled its interview on the well-established interview guide utilized by CN, apparently for a number of years, as part of its process for selecting candidates to become engine service employees. A review of that model confirms that candidates for locomotive engineer training have, within the industry, been required to undergo a personal interview during which they are specifically questioned as to hypothetical case situations, being asked “What would you do?” in the face of the various questions addressed. The model CN interview placed before the Arbitrator notably contains sections of evaluation substantially similar to those utilized by the Corporation, such as working with a minimum of supervision, dealing with stressful situations and communication skills, to name a few. As a general proposition, therefore, the Arbitrator has some difficulty accepting that the format of an interview which contains hypothetical situations, without specific reference to operating rules, to elicit responses as to the general course of action the candidate would take, is inappropriate. On the contrary, it appears to be the norm within the industry, a fact which the candidates in the instant case, and their bargaining agent, knew or reasonably should have known.
Nor can the Arbitrator take issue with the decision of the Corporation to impose a relatively stringent standard with respect to marking and the need to successfully complete each aspect of the interview. Subject to asking questions which are unreasonable or unfair, a matter dealt with separately below, it is manifestly within the prerogatives of a passenger railway to establish relatively rigorous standards for the selection of candidates for training as locomotive engineers within its service. In the result, therefore, the Arbitrator is not persuaded that anything concerning the general format or style of the interview, or the “must-pass” standard adopted by the employer can be said to offend the Crew Consist Adjustment Agreement or the provisions of the Joint Training Program Agreement made between the parties.
The Arbitrator is satisfied, however, that there is merit to certain of the objections raised by the Brotherhood. Specifically, I must sustain the concern of the Brotherhood that it was unfair to candidates to assess them for the time they took to answer a given question, without giving them any prior advance notice that the speed at which answers would be given would of itself be a factor which could gain or lose marks for an interviewee. It appears that the speed of the candidate’s response was worth a total of fourteen marks on the first portion of the interview, dealing with decision making skills. In the result, therefore, in addressing each of the individual grievances the Arbitrator deems that the fourteen points should be awarded, as a basis of overall fairness.
Secondly, the Arbitrator is compelled to agree with counsel for the Brotherhood that certain of the questions put to the grievors required responses which pre-suppose a knowledge of the changes in operations which took place after the introduction of NEPO. For example, one of the questions dealing with a reduction in speed and the possible lateness of a train allows four points for the possible answer “Ensures that the train journal indicates the precise cause of delay.” It is common ground that prior to the introduction of NEPO conductors were responsible for train journals. Following NEPO conductor responsibilities were divided, as confirmed in prior awards of this Arbitrator, between the locomotive engineers and the OTS Service Manager. There was no reason why the candidates, who had effectively been removed from service following the abolishment of their positions, and were not involved in any NEPO training, should be expected to know which of the two would be expected to maintain the train journal. Similarly, a question concerning a yellow flag in single track territory, which awards points for the answer “advises OTS of situation” clearly involves a new post-NEPO process which, I am satisfied, it is unfair to expect the candidates to understand. In circumstances of that kind, therefore, the Arbitrator deems it appropriate to adjust the marks of the candidates accordingly.
The objections of the Brotherhood are therefore allowed, in part. It is on the basis of this award, as well as other circumstances specific to individual candidates, that the Arbitrator determines that the individual grievances are to be considered.
Dated at Toronto, this 15th day of December 2000
(original signed by) MICHEL G. PICHER