British Columbia

RCMP union loses 'hot button' battle over free parking spaces in Victoria and Whistler

The union that represents RCMP officers have lost a labour challenge claiming the force took away free parking possibilities for members in Victoria and Whistler. The decision highlights an issue a tribunal member called "a hot button" for officers.

Labour tribunal rejects union's claim that RCMP changed employee parking policy

A file photo of a parking meter. Due to a shortage of parking near the Vancouver Island headquarters of the RCMP, employees have been forced to "scramble" for free spots. The issue recently came before a labour tribunal. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Members at Vancouver Island's RCMP headquarters call it "scramble parking."

The region's chief superintendent told a labour tribunal that no-charge spaces in and around the Victoria HQ were at such a premium that staff would regularly scour the parking lot for spaces from the windows during the workday.

And when one came up, they pounced. 

"They would leave their workstations or meetings, exit the building, and move their personal vehicles into the vacant spots," the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board said in one of two recent decisions devoted to the problem.

"Parking is a hot button issue. For those who must drive to work, the question of where one can park, and what one must pay to park there can be of significant importance."

An EPIC problem

Parking problems at the Victoria and Whistler RCMP detachments are outlined in a pair of complaints brought forward by the National Police Federation (NPF), the union certified as a bargaining agent for 19,000 RCMP members and reservists last year.

The NPF lost the complaints earlier this summer. Both accused the police force of changing parking conditions for members before the federation received final certification to act on their behalf.

So-called scramble parking at RCMP headquarters on Vancouver Island became so bad that police cruisers had to park on neighbouring streets. When the force acted to secure spots for police vehicles, members took them to a labour tribunal. (David Bell/CBC)

By law, employers are not supposed to radically alter working conditions for employees in the period before a union starts bargaining for them.

The decisions themselves highlight an ongoing, pricey issue for police officers in both locations. 

The situation got so bad in Victoria that municipal staff started ticketing RCMP cruisers parked in surrounding neighbourhood streets because they couldn't find spots in the building lot.

The chief superintendent struck a committee to examine the problems: the Employee Parking Integration Committee — or EPIC, for short.

In a similar vein, in June 2017, the Resort Municipality of Whistler ended all free parking for RCMP members who had previously arranged with bylaw officers to overlook their vehicles during work hours.

According to the labour board, the municipality's general manager got wind of the arrangement and ended the free parking for anything other than municipal, police, and emergency fleet vehicles, explaining that none of the municipality's other staff got to park for free.

"Parking is no doubt a concern for those who traditionally accessed this area at no cost," an inspector with the Whistler detachment wrote to members informing them of the change.

Not 'good news for many'

The two situations are different in that the Victoria headquarters has its own 124-space parking lot. About 25 of those spaces were reserved for specific vehicles, leaving the remaining 100-or-so spots for other federal or municipal vehicles, visitors and employees. An average of 172 people work in the building, and so the "scramble" began.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler took away the right for police officers to park their personal vehicles for free during work hours. (CBC)

Many employees would park on the neighbouring streets, which have two hour time limits. According to the decision, they frequently had to move their cars to avoid being ticketed. 

And once the RCMP vehicles went out on patrol, employees took their vacant spots in the building lot. Which meant the cruisers had park off the lot when they got back.

To make matters worse, the RCMP decided members who parked a ticketed cruiser would have to pay fines on vehicles that weren't involved in covert operations.

"Over the years, there were numerous incidents of damage to police vehicles both within the [Island District Headquarters] parking lot and on the surrounding streets," the decision says. 

"There were other incidents including trespasses, thefts, suspicious persons photographing police cars and persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol entering the lot."

In March 2019, the superintendent sent out an email which he acknowledged would "not be good news for many of you" saying that going forward, only 35 of the 124 spots would be available for employee or visitor parking; the rest would be reserved for police vehicles. 

He told the tribunal the number was expected to drop by another 10 in the future — leaving only 19 spots available to fight over.

And then came the Olympics

By contrast, the Whistler detachment only has 32 members, who along with firefighters once enjoyed the right to free parking if the public safety lot was full. But then came the 2010 Olympics.

After the Olympics, the municipality allowed RCMP members nine to 10 personal parking spots. Management warned officers not to utilize those spots for "personal parking, skiing, biking, shopping, attending restaurants or festivities" in Whistler village.

And as of 2017, RCMP officers were given the option of parking in lots that cost $30 or $60 a month, depending on their proximity to the station.

In considering the complaints, board member David Orfald said that in both cases, the union failed to prove that the RCMP had altered a condition of employment with regards to the parking changes.

In the Victoria case, Orfard said employees never enjoyed a right to free parking — as "underlined by the very name of the arrangement, scramble parking."

And in Whistler, he said it was the Resort Municipality of Whistler — not the RCMP — that made the change to the parking arrangements.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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