Unions Can’t Blackball Members Refusing To Participate In Illegal Strike

By Pushor Mitchell LLP
Categories: Blog, Employment Law

One of the effects of last year’s illegal strike by the B.C. Teachers Federation is the lingering acrimony between members who joined the strike and those who didn’t. Union members who refused to participate in the illegal action were in the news this week as several of them were declared to be in “bad standing” by their local unions.

Within the B.C.T.F., certain union locals also demanded that these law-abiding individuals pay, to the union, the money they earned by working during the illegal strike. In effect, these teachers were being fined for obeying the law and the orders of B.C.’s Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, it appears this action by the local unions has deepened the rift between members who supported the illegal strike and those who didn’t.

The situation reached a state of confusion for the B.C.T.F. and its members last week. B.C.T.F. President Jinny Sims appeared to have initially supported the move against the rebel members. She reportedly emailed them to say the local unions had the authority to find them in “bad standing” and to recommend they pay the fine. More recently, however, Sims reversed direction, stating that the local unions have no authority to declare the members in “bad standing”.

One member, Margaret Christopherson in Merritt, filed a complaint with the B.C. Labour Relations Board over the union’s actions. Then, unexpectedly, her local union also reversed its position and reinstated her to good standing.

So, what is the law as it relates to unions imposing sanctions against members who refuse to participate in an illegal strike? The answer can be found in B.C.’s Labour Relations Code.

The Code imposes a number of obligations on both unions and employers in relation to their dealings with employees and union members. Not only employers, but also unions are subject to a number of rules regarding their conduct.

Like all parties to a collective bargaining relationship, unions must not engage in coercive or intimidating behaviour for the purpose of compelling a person to become, or cease to be, a member of a trade union. Unions must apply the principles of natural justice when dealing with their members in relation to internal union affairs (relating to the constitution of the union, a person’s membership in the union, and the discipline of union members).

Unions must also abide by a duty of fair representation in relation to their members. That means the union must not act in a way that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.

Most importantly (as it relates to the B.C.T.F.’s actions last week), a union must not expel, suspend, or impose a penalty on a member who refuses or fails to participate in an activity prohibited by the Code. Stated more simply, this means a union must not retaliate against members who refuse to take part in an illegal activity.

There is no doubt that the B.C.T.F.’s walkout amounted to an illegal strike for the purposes of the Code. So, any form of retaliatory action against law-abiding teachers (being those who went to work instead of manning picket lines) is contrary to the Code.

This probably explains why the “bad standing” status of Margaret Christopherson was rescinded so quickly once she launched a complaint under the Code. She and any other B.C.T.F. members who were declared in “bad standing” or who were asked to pay monies to their union local (or who were otherwise penalized) can rest assured the law of B.C. is on their side.