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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 7, May/June 2005

Human rights tribunal supports collective action

by Ian Johnson

On May 12, 2004, a member of the Sooke Teachers’ Association laid a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) against the union and its executive. The area of alleged discrimination and the foundation of the complaint was that through membership in our union her right to free political belief was impinged.

Her allegation was that on April 29, 2004, at a school union meeting, she was informed that CUPE would be setting up a picket line at the school the following morning in support of the strike by the HEU and that teachers were expected to not cross the line, as it would be a violation of the BCTF’s Code of Ethics. On, April 30, 2004, the member entered the school property by way of the school’s rear entrance. As a consequence to her actions, the Sooke Teachers’ Association (STA), on May 1, 2004, forwarded a complaint to the BCTF Judicial Council alleging that the member had violated the BCTF Code of Ethics in crossing the picket line when she entered the school.

It was the member’s allegation to the HRT that the STA leadership attempted to foist their radical left-wing views on every teacher in the district and the possibility existed that this complaint could cost the member her membership in the BCTF—her job and career—for failure to support the "correct" party line. As a way of remedy, in the form of a penalty, the member suggested to the HRT that the BCTF run an education program for teachers throughout the province, educating them as to their right to follow the law and hold, publicly, any political belief they choose. She also asked for an award for pain and suffering of $15,000.

In the course of events, the STA withdrew its complaint from the BCTF Judicial Council; however, the complaint by the member to the HRT was not subsequently withdrawn.

The response by the HRT, in a 10-page preliminary decision, dated December 9, 2004, was that the entire complaint should be dismissed. What follows is a brief abstract of that decision taken directly from the HRT document.

The HRT decision

(Manning v Sooke Teachers’ Association and others, 2004 BCHRT 281)

"…It is clear from the submissions of the parties that [the member] disagrees with some of the policies and actions of the Association and BCTF.

"…In its essence, [the member’s] complaint alleges that she was treated badly by the [Union] due to her disagreement with their political beliefs and actions. This treatment took the form, according to [the member], of pressure to participate in the Association’s and the BCTF’s job actions, social shunning in the workplace, and culminated in the Association’s complaint to the BCTF’s Judicial Council, in which it was alleged that [she] had breached s. 8 of the BCTF’s Code of Ethics.

"…Membership in a trade union involves, at its core, a number of trade-offs. In return for gaining the financial and other advantages of collective bargaining, members agree to be bound by the collective decision-making of the union. Instead of individual workers bargaining directly with their employer about the terms and conditions of their employment, their union is given the right, and the employer the obligation, to bargain with one another. The member also gives up the right, with some exceptions, notably a complaint under the Human Rights Code, to take individual action against their employer about workplace issues, and instead gains the right to use the grievance procedure established under the collective agreement. The member is, in turn, given the right to participate in the democratic decision-making of the union about the goals and objectives and workplace strategies which it will adopt. Members of a trade union are typically expected to honour the collective actions of their trade union, and unions are entitled, in accordance with their internal constitutions, to take actions to require them to do so. Modern labour legislation, and the labour relations boards set up to administer it, have been created to establish, maintain and oversee this complex system of interactive rights and responsibilities.

"Views and beliefs about trade unions, and the appropriate scope of their power, authority and actions, are inherently ‘political’ in the broad sense of the word.

"If [the complaint] to the Tribunal were accepted as valid, it would mean that anytime a union member disagreed with their union’s actions, and a dispute arose between the member and the union as a result, the member would be able to make a complaint to the Tribunal that the union had discriminated against them on the basis of their political beliefs. Such a result would be inconsistent with the very nature of trade unions. It would mean that trade unions would have no power to discipline their members where their members disagree with and take steps contrary to the union’s political stance as expressed in its collective action. I do not accept that was the intention of the Legislature in enacting s.14 of the Code. Such an interpretation would represent a severe encroachment on the independence of trade unions and their ability to take collective action.

"…[The complainant] has political views which differ from those of her union. She is entitled to those views and to express them publicly, as she has done. She has chosen not to participate in the collective actions of her union, and her union has taken her to task for that. Neither the Association nor the BCTF has jeopardized her employment. She has, by her account, experienced some shunning and ostracization within her workplace. This is not surprising, given the nature of the differences of opinion between the member and her colleagues. None of this, in my view, constitutes a breach of s.14 of the Human Rights Code.

"For the reasons given, I do not think that [the complainant] alleges acts or omissions contravene the Code. For the same reasons, I do not think that [the] complaint has any reasonable prospect of success or that allowing the complaint to proceed would further the purposes of the Code. I therefore dismiss the complaint…."

Ian Johnson is president of the Sooke Teachers’ Association.

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