Member complaint against CLAC must proceed to hearing, LRB rules

By Carmela Allevato

The Christian Labour Association (CLAC), Local 66, suffered a setback at the Labour Relations Board earlier this month.  CLAC claims to be a trade union but is not recognized to be a legitimate workers’ organization by anyone within the labour movement.  A recent decision by the LRB illustrates some of the reasons why this is so.

In a decision issued June 16, 2016, Re Clark Reefer Lines Ltd,  a reconsideration panel of the Labour Relations Board headed by Board Chair Brent Mullin directed that the Board hold a hearing into the merits of a complaint by a member of the Christian Labourer’s Association of Canada (CLAC) Local 66 that the union had violated its duty of fair representation when it failed to represent him in his termination.

 The worker alleged that when he was hired he was never told who the union was; he was not given a collective agreement and when dues were deducted there was no indication as to which union they were being forwarded.   When he was fired during his probationary period he asked the employer about union representation.  The employer told him that he was not entitled to union representation during this probationary period and that the employer did not need a reason to terminate him. 

Under BC law both are untrue.  A union has an obligation under s. 12 to provide representation to all workers within the bargaining unit.  The complainant was a member of the bargaining unit.  On the question of no reason for termination, while the Labour Relations Code does allow the parties to negotiate a lower standard of cause for probationary employees, their termination is arbitrable and is subject to basic procedural and substantive protections.

After he was fired, it took the worker more than six months of research to discover that he had been a member of CLAC, which he only, finally, uncovered when the Employment Standards Branch refused his complaint because he was a unionized worker.

The worker then reached out to CLAC seeking assistance. Instead of responding to the worker, CLAC spoke to the employer, got the employer’s version of events, and without putting that version of events to the worker decided that the employer was right and that no grievance would be filed on his behalf.

The worker filed  a complaint at the Labour Relations Board that CLAC had violated its duty of fair representation by failing to grieve his termination.  Under the Labour Code this type of complaint does not automatically go to a hearing.  Instead a Vice Chair first assesses whether the complaint disclose a prima facie case, i.e. that it is apparent on the face of the complain that the violation occurred. In Decision B37/2016 the complaint was initially dismissed.

The worker was nothing if not tenacious and even though he was self-represented, he filed an application under section 141 of the Code for reconsideration. The reconsideration panel held that the allegations in the complaint constituted a case that a contravention of Section 12 of the Code had apparently occurred and directed that a hearing be held.

Check back here or on the BC Labour Relations Board website for future developments.