The Supreme Court of Canada recently dismissed applications by two unions for leave to appeal lower court decisions in Ontario and Alberta which denied the unions the right to use the judicial system to collect fines against members for crossing picket lines.
In Ontario, the Union of Taxation Employees, a division of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, attempted to fine members who crossed the union’s picket line to attend work during a legal strike. The union also disciplined the members for violating its constitution and suspended their union membership for a three-year period. When the members refused to pay, the union sought to enforce payment through the Ontario courts. The members successfully applied for a declaration that the court did not have jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the constitution which imposed fines or financial penalties against members. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the union’s appeal of that decision.
In Alberta, members of the Telecommunications Workers’ Union were charged with violating the union’s constitution and fined when they crossed picket lines during a legal strike. The Union sought a judgement in debt and enforcement of the fines in Provincial Court. The court held that there was no action at common law or under statute authorizing the union’s enforcement of fines or other disciplinary sanctions in a court of law. This decision was upheld on appeal to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.
When the respective unions applied to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn the judgements, leave to appeal was dismissed with costs. These decisions serve as an important reminder that unionized employees have a right to cross picket lines to work at their own jobs, despite union direction otherwise.