Unions have a duty to represent employees fairly

Generally speaking, the union is an employee’s only avenue for asserting their workplace-related legal rights. However, employees have the right to be represented “fairly” by their unions. A lawyer can assist you in asserting these rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada has put the point like this in its Gagnon decision:

“The exclusive power conferred on a union to act as spokesman for the employees in a bargaining unit entails a corresponding obligation on the union to fairly represent all employees comprised in the unit.”

The Labour Relations Act also requires unions to represent their employees fairly.

Although these sorts of complaints are particularly difficult to win against unions, some cases have been successful. For example, the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board found in its Lucyshyn decision that the union had failed to meet its duty to represent its employee member fairly because the union acted “arbitrarily.” The Board wrote:

“The evidence discloses that [the union] did not conduct any meaningful investigation of the complaints alleged by the Applicant. Furthermore, it took a superficial or cursory view of the grievances filed. They maintained no record of the grievances (as demonstrated by their inability to even locate copies of the grievances). Furthermore, they failed to communicate with the Applicant concerning his grievances after the initial meetings with [the employer], where the majority of the grievances were denied, following up on only one grievance, which was subsequently accepted and paid out. Arbitrariness was further demonstrated when the grievances were withdrawn by the Respondent Union without consultation or communication with the Applicant. Nor was the Applicant offered any opportunity to be heard in respect of the Respondent Union’s decision to withdraw his grievances.”

Employees: If your union has treated you unfairly, contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights.

Unions: Understand what it means to represent an employee “fairly.” A brief chat with a lawyer can go a long way.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as an information resource. This article should not be relied upon to make decisions and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified legal professional. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship. Please note that this information is current only to the date of posting. The law is constantly changing and always evolving. I encourage you to reach out with any specific questions.