Activity From Jan 1, 2015 to Jan 9, 2015

  • Received ‘state of the Union’ updates from Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer
  • Discussion with CUPE National Rep re: arbitration dates and locations as well as Letters of Expectation
  • Note: if you receive a Letter of Expectation, please let your rep know. If it is inaccurate in any way it can be corrected, potentially even via informal discussions with the local manager and your rep. The letter must be factual and must not contains unreasonable expectations such as excessive workload or duties beyond your job classification.
  • Received drafted ‘Waiver of Representation’ language flowing from ratified Collective Agreement for discussion with Executive. Sought and received CUPE National advice
  • Emails with Laura Boyle re: setting up 3 Step 2 grievance meetings
  • Emails with John Madden re: renewing relationship and setting up 2015 JLRC dates
  • Teleconference with Bruce Pollock, Char Paul and Bruce Pollock re: details of calculation of gainsharing wrap-up flowing from the ratified Collective Agreement
  • Contact with Area Rep re: presentation of Step 1 grievance
  • Received 2014 BC Assessment Contract list for discussion at Exec
  • Received ‘revised probationary period’ impact document and draft communication to affected employees for discussion with Exec and agreement with HR

Did you miss me?... I missed you!! For those of you who didn’t notice, I had accepted a three month acting Deputy Assessor position that started right after our September AGM in Richmond and just finished December 31st. I did make this fact known in my address to the delegates before nominations and elections.

I very much appreciate the work that was done in my absence. Thanks very much especially to Jared, your Vice President, who very ably took over the President role during that time frame and was involved in some very meaty issues. This was a good opportunity for me to gain a little experience and insight into the ‘other side’ of our same coin called BC Assessment. I knew that your executive is a mature one and capable of keeping things running smoothly…so thanks to them all!

This opportunity also proved once again that any union member can be actively involved in their Local and still be able to be afforded opportunities at excluded work as well if they so choose. The employer cannot discriminate anyway in awarding work based on legitimate union activity.

It was unfortunate that the timing was such that, after leading our negotiating team for nine months, that I couldn’t be there for the concluding week. If you recall we had reached an impasse in the summer and had stopped actively bargaining. In early September I approached John Madden, the VP of HR, about the degree of interest on the Employer’s part to try to resolve our differences. This led to a meeting with John, Bruce Pollock, myself, Jared and Trent Snikkers.

Thankfully that open and frank discussion paved the road for the final week of bargaining which I could not attend. Before I took on my new role though I ensured that the Union’s bargaining team knew my position on each of the remaining outstanding issues. Thankfully my confidence in their abilities to conclude the agreement was not baseless. Is it an ideal agreement?…clearly the answer is no with wage increases less than the cost of living, but the biggest hurdle there is the harsh reality that much larger Union groups than ours had already accepted the ‘deal’.

Acting Positions

Due to the ongoing upheaval in the upper management ranks because of the re-organization of positions I was offered a two month extension in the management role, but I politely declined. In my acting role I was asked and agreed to completing my senior appraiser roll closure duties with development land while concurrently taking on the deputy role. I thought at the time that without the Union duties I would be able to capably complete both tasks. While I was not easy and it led to increased stress.

While very busy at work on the positive side I thought initially that my internet provider had crashed since I no longer had a daily flood of emails. For the first time in years I actually had evenings where my primary task was chopping firewood and making sure there was a bottle of wine ready to sip while watching tv.

You should never do an acting assignment for the small pay bump, and when you’re effectively doing two jobs the difference becomes downright laughable. The opportunity to perform both jobs during inquiry season struck me as even less pun intended.

It’s been my observation that managers generally across the province are under the gun to meet strict wage expenditure it seems to be low-hanging fruit to either not back-fill some positions, or double up roles under acting positions. This allows less opportunity for development, and frankly minimizes the development that occurs even when filling the role. This minimization of acting roles has become increasingly problematic and is not a model that provides for a healthy work environment or development opportunity; it’s only about saving money.

Same Coin / Two Sides

In different meetings with managers from around the province it was no news or surprise to me that they feel similarly to the average worker…wages are low and stagnant, the work is increasing in volume and complexity, and the tools being offered are insufficient to the task.

The challenge managers are faced with is that they have to do more and more with less and less. This immediately creates situations of conflict with the terms of the Collective Agreement whether intentional or not. There is of course always an undercurrent of resentment that managers have never had ‘flex’ days, and even now I was surprised that they do not have access to formal flexible hours of work. There is some form of understanding about ‘manager days’ but part of that understanding is that you had better put in an excessive amount of hours before you take one. No wonder some get ‘short’ with employees requesting time off or “only” working 70 hours per pay period.

The concept of work/life balance is increasingly important as generational changes continue to move through our company so to continue with a 1970’s control of manager’s time seems more than anachronistic; it is detrimental to the healthy and smooth operation of the company.

Those managers who accept those terms and conditions cannot help but consciously or sub-consciously resent employees who avail themselves of hours of work language, flexibility and leave provisions. No word of a lie I heard of one manager ‘congratulating’ her female employee: “Thank you for your commitment to BC Assessment in returning to work full time”. So someone taking a parental leave or Less Than Full Time as agreed between the parties is somehow NOT committed to BC Assessment?

Dropping Your Calls to Serve You Better

Being a specialist appraiser I was blissfully unaware last year the depth of the problems with UCCX. I was aware of problems yes, but this year as a supervisor actively managing a call team I realize how far backwards we have gone in the name of customer service. That IS the mantra right?...becoming customer-centric, becoming more responsive...even creating a whole new excluded executive position The Vice President of Customer? Is that even grammatically correct?... not of ‘customer service’, or of ‘the customer’? ...but I digress.

One day this week while monitoring calls and trying to balance appraisers on calls versus on projects I found we were losing calls. The term is “contacts abandoned”, where our customer is trying to call through but cannot reach an agent...they go into a queue waiting for one of us, but if they get fed up, they hang up. Don’t get me wrong...we love the fact that our calls are no longer being bounced around the province though!

A quick look showed that seven teams around the province (mostly res and strata) actually lost between 25 and 42% of all their calls that day. I understand this may include people who may have opted for the ‘call me back option’ but that is not showing as a separate column in our reporting software. Whether call-back or not that still represents hundreds of our customers who got tired of waiting for us to answer the call!! So in the name of efficiency we are letting between a quarter and half of our customers in some areas get angry with us. Will they appeal? Probably... At very least we know the adage is true that a lot more people share negative customer experiences than positive ones! Messaging from the executive that afternoon was to not let calls exceed two minutes in the queue...but we are not just exceeding that...they are hanging up.

There are two is looking to past years experience to dictate current year licenses and a the other is being too successful at berating managers and supervisors into minimizing people on calls and maximizing time on projects during our inquiry period. This is the inquiry period...not the project period. If we can fit projects around our crucial calls to our customers great, but it should never be at their expense! As a result of the efficiency push supervisors are largely not monitoring call volumes very closely and are certainly not using all the licences that are available to them or are under pressure NOT to use them even if available.

In the not-too-distant-past, before spending a lot of money ($800,000 was it?) on UCCX...we used our regular phone lines. The phone rang and almost every call was answered if incoming lines were available. The customer information was collected and the call passed to an appraiser with the remark that they could expect a call back within 48 hours. Our customers were very very happy with that service and we delivered on that promise. Now we don’t even pick up the phone.

This current approach is costly, inefficient and provides very poor customer service. It is currently the number one reason why employees are frustrated because they see this glaring disconnect between what they had capably done only two short years ago and how far we have gone from that despite being told that NOW we are focussed on the customer.

I must be back... I feel I just channeled my inner Rick Mercer for a moment. I make no apologies though...I am passionate about my work and about BC Assessment. I simply agree with what most employees, managers around the province included, are feeling and expressing.

Principles of Assessment Training

A very positive experience I had was being involved in the delivery of this training to employees just after Roll Closure. At first I was dubious about providing a general course of this nature but was completely convinced after the ‘train the trainer’ session that it was very timely. The idea of providing an overview of where we came from as a company, where we are now, and where we might go does a number of things. Primarily for me it reinforces the benefit our company provides to the stability and equitability of our property tax system in this province.

A very positive aspect of the format of this training was in providing a platform with which to have multiple generations of employees relate better to each other. In sharing their experiences and perspectives within the framework of moving forward together I believe it helped provide some cohesion to our company; critical at a time of continuous change.

Bruce Pollock Retirement

Bruce is the Manager of HR and given the nature of our respective roles for the Employer and Union we have had a respectful but tense working relationship for many years. He had shared with Jared and I that this last round of bargaining would likely be his last, and indeed he has just announced his retirement effective at the end of March.

When on the road I tend to watch my horoscope to see with some amusement what the day might bring. A couple years ago near the end of our previous round of bargaining it read something to the effect that ‘today is not a good day to conclude important agreements’. When we met with the Employers bargaining committee that morning I began my preamble to the contract clause at hand with that warning from my horoscope and to my surprise their team burst out laughing.

Apparently BOTH Bruce and I share the same birthday.

I was then surprised by my teams response...along the line of ‘oh, that explains a lot’. I didn’t know whether to be offended or not, and just for myself or for Bruce as well. Let’s just say that we are both detail oriented, perhaps a touch stubborn, but clearly passionate about what we believe in and adamant that we are correct. Fortunately I know I am on the side of goodness and light ☺

I won’t say Bruce is a worthy adversary since it implies we are working to opposing ends. We are both working towards the same end: making BC Assessment a company worthy of being passionate about. We simply got bogged down in the details of what that might look like.

No matter what Bruce’s future looks like I wish him nothing but health, happiness and that nobody ‘gobsmacks’ him anymore.

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