B.C. Union Shows Its True Colours
B.C. Union Shows Its True Colours

B.C. Union Shows Its True Colours

October 1 st 1988

The mainline unions, in league with the NDP, oppose the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement because, they claim, it will destroy Canada as a caring and sharing community. Ed Broadbent tells us that the NDP cares for the average family and that it wants to protect the poor from the wiles of big business, including this agreement.

According to the B.C. Federation of Labour: "An economy and society dominated by business pursuing their self-interest in the marketplace never has and never will operate to the advantage of working people." The Federation's Executive Council concludes its recent policy statement against free trade, privatization, and deregulation with the ringing declaration to "recommit ourselves to the rejection of market domination of social and economic policy and its replacement with a caring, compassionate, planned economy that provides full employment, a high and rising standard of living and more equal distribution of income and wealth." These noble-sounding resolutions of care and compassion ring hollow, though, when we take a closer look at the actions of those affiliated with the B.C. Fed.

Earlier this year, the British Columbia Industrial Relations Council heard a complaint by Lena Andrews, an employee at a retirement centre in Delta, against Local 180 of the Hospital Employees' Union. Andrews began working for the centre in ay of 1985 as a casual nurse's aide. The collective agreement between the centre and Local 180 required that all employees join the union after 30 days of employment. However, when Andrews applied for membership in HEU, she was turned down. Then, the union requested that Ms. Andrews be dismissed from her job because she did not meet the union membership requirement. She found herself in a catch-22 situation: she must join the union as a condition of employment, but the union refused her membership and demanded she be fired for non-membership. What led to this strange predicament?

It all goes back to the inordinate and illegitimate power granted to unions by means of the union shop and the closed shop. You see, Local 180 of HEU had a reason to dislike Ms. Andrews, and it wanted to take revenge. During a strike by Local 180 against the Delta centre prior to her employment there, Andrews regularly brought her elderly mother to the centre for adult daycare. While there, she also continued to perform volunteer duties she had done prior to the strike.

Shortly after the strike was settled on May 5, 1985, the centre hired Ms. Andrews. The HEU was displeased that she had crossed the picket line during the strike to assist her mother and to perform volunteer work at the centre, and so attempted to have her fired.

After the employer initially refused to dismiss Ms. Andrews, the HEU filed a grievance. Fortunately for her, the Industrial Relations Act of B.C. states that no trade union shall "refuse membership in the trade union to any person . . . except for a cause which is in the council's opinion fair and reasonable." The same act also forbids the trade union to require "an employer to terminate the employment of an employee . . . because membership in a trade union has been denied or withheld from that employee." The arbitration board dismissed REV's complaint on the basis that its refusal to grant membership to Andrews was not founded on reasonable grounds, but did not order HEU to admit her as a member. Her employment with the centre was now secure, but she still wanted to join Local 180 with a view to future employment in the industry. She proceeded to file a complaint with the Industrial Relations Council. Since the B.C. Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions have refused to recognize the Council, Local 180 failed to make representation. Andrews's complaint was heard by Vice-Chairman R.I. Arsenau, who ended up ordering Local 180 to accept Andrews into its membership.

Arsenau argued that there was no evidence that Andrews had crossed the picket line to assist the employer. She was simply continuing her regular volunteer work during the time her mother was treated at the centre. The union had failed to notify Andrews of the possible adverse consequences of her providing volunteer services during the strike. Arsenau ruled that the union had failed to prove that its refusal to grant membership to Ms. Andrews was fair and reasonable.

In one sense, this episode had a happy ending—at least Ms. Andrews kept her job. In another sense, it again demonstrates the fundamental wrong of granting unions the power to ban workers from their jobs. The irony is that the employee was not out to oppose the union. She was simply doing what she thought was right in helping needy people. Unions who style themselves as protectors of the workers and the poor and then engage in tactics to deprive a conscientious and caring person of employment deserve nothing but scorn. They only have themselves to blame when they are held in low public esteem.

Harry Antonides
 
Harry Antonides

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.

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