Worker alienated by union’s lack of support for religious shirts at work

Co-workers found Raëlian Movement shirts offensive but worker insisted on wearing them
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 05/12/2009

A Quebec union has drawn the wrath of supporters of religious freedom after one of its members was disciplined and then fired for wearing shirts promoting the Raëlian Movement to work.

A worker for Transformateur Delta du Canada, a manufacturer of electric supplies in Granby, Que., was a member of the Raëlian Movement, a religion based on the belief Earth was created by aliens, and wore t-shirts to work that promoted it. The t-shirts included one that said “God does not exist” and another that depicted an alien with the caption “The true face of God.”

In 2007, several employees complained to Transformateur that the shirts offended their personal religious convictions. Transformateur felt the shirts violated its policy on discrimination based on religion and asked the employee to stop wearing the shirts. The employee was told to go home for two hours to change his clothes. He wasn’t paid for the two hours.

The union, United Steelworkers, filed a grievance for the two hours of pay the worker was docked, but it seemed to agree that the shirts couldn't be worn since they offended other union members. The worker filed a complaint saying the union had failed to defend him and the Commission des relations de travail met with all the parties. The worker subsequently withdrew his grievance and insisted he would continue to wear the shirts. The company first suspended him for three days, then 10 days. After the worker continued to wear the shirts, Transformateur fired him.

The union grieved the discipline, but the worker argued the union wouldn’t support a resolution where he could wear the shirts to work. The Raëlian Movement itself took up the cause, saying both the union and the company were discriminating against the religion.

The union denied the charge, saying it defended the worker as it would anyone else in the same situation.

“We have no intention of acting as a platform for the Raëlian Movement. Our purpose is to defend all the members of our union without discrimination. That is what we have always done and will continue to do," said Denis Trottier, co-ordinator of the United Steelworkers.

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