The B.C. Labour Relations Board has refused to hear an appeal of its 2005 decision ordering the B.C. Teachers’ Federation back to work. The Board held that the matter is now moot and that the BCTF did not come to the Board with “clean hands”, having made it clear at the time of its 2005 strike that it would not obey a back-to-work order from the Board.
In October 2005, the BCTF and its members engaged in an illegal strike province-wide strike. The BCTF continued to strike from October 7 through 24, 2005, despite back-to-work orders from the Labour Relations Board registered in court and a subsequent contempt of court ruling from the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The Supreme Court ultimately fined the BCTF $500,000, the largest contempt fine ever issued in Canada, for its refusal to obey the back-to-work orders.
The BCTF paid the contempt fine after the end of the strike, but subsequently applied to the Labour Relations Board for reconsideration of its back-to-work order. Among other things, the BCTF argued that the Board did not have jurisdiction to issue a back-to-work order before the provincial government’s legislation imposing a new collective agreement actually came into effect.
On August 4, 2006, the Board denied leave for reconsideration to the BCTF on two grounds. First, it ruled that the BCTF’s appeal was now academic (or “moot”) because the underlying labour dispute was over. Second, and in a significant ruling, the Board stated it would deny leave because the BCTF did not come to the Board with “clean hands”, having made it clear at the time of the illegal strike it had no intention of obeying a Board order. The Board stated that,
… it is no answer for the BCTF to say that it has paid the monetary penalty for its contempt imposed by the Court. Contempt proceedings and penalties are not merely the fee a party must pay in order to disobey the law. In the present case, there is no question that the conduct of the BCTF was illegal… BCTF is seeking to have the Board expend resources hearing and adjudicating an application to an order that it was never prepared to obey, and did not obey, in the first place.
In these circumstances, we find it is just and equitable for the Board to deny the BCTF leave for reconsideration of the Interim Order on the basis of its illegal conduct in respect to that Order. (para. 65-66)
Harris & Company represented the employer association for B.C.’s public school boards, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (“BCPSEA”) throughout the illegal strike proceedings and in response to the reconsideration application filed by the BCTF.