Supreme Court of Canada kills last attempt to enforce union fines

Ontario courts said union had no legal authority to levy “unconscionable” fines against workers who crossed picket lines
||Last Updated: 06/03/2009

A union’s final appeal to support its ability to fine members for crossing a picket line has been denied by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In the fall of 2004, Jeffrey Birch and April Luberti went on strike against the Canada Revenue Agency with other members of the Union of Taxation Employees, which was part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Birch and Luberti disagreed with the union’s approach and crossed the picket line, working for three days during the seven-day strike.

The union suspended the memberships of the two workers for three years, one year for each day they worked during the strike, and $476.75 each, which was equivalent to their gross pay they earned on those three days.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled it couldn’t enforce the fines because there was no specific law authorizing the imposition of fines by trade unions. The court also found the fines were unfair because they represented a greater amount (gross pay) than the workers took home (net pay) at a time when they already suffered financially because of the strike and the union could have used other methods — such as an information campaign — to garner support for the strike.

Finally, the trial court found the union was taking advantage of its unequal bargaining power created by the union constitution, which gave workers little choice in following union rules and made the fines unconscionable.

The union found no support with the Ontario Court of Appeal either, which supported the trial court’s decision and refused to enforce unconscionable fines against union members. This prompted the union’s attempt at having the Supreme Court of Canada make a final ruling on the issue, but the Supreme Court refused to give leave to appeal.

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