By Robert Green
For those that were hoping that the election of Peter Sutherland as MTA President would lead to a union with less acrimonious meetings and a more open democratic culture where everyone’s views are respected, the first meeting of the MTA reps assembly put such hopes to rest. Rather than setting a new tone of mutual respect, Sutherland chose to use the first meeting for a personal attack on an individual member known for her dissenting views within the union.
The attack came under a vaguely titled agenda item, “legal update”. It involved a complaint that had been filed against the MTA at the Labour Relations Commission alleging that the MTA had violated section 47.2 of the Labour Code which states that “A certified association shall not act in bad faith or in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner or show serious negligence in respect of employees comprised in a bargaining unit represented by it”. The item was ostensibly to report on the fact that the member’s complaint against the MTA had been unsuccessful.
Although reporting such an event to the members is entirely appropriate, it should be noted that the MTA leadership has a history of reporting events involving the Labour Relations Commission only when it suites their political interests. Rulings against the MTA, or members being paid-off in out-of-court settlements are often not reported to the membership.
It should also be noted that the member in question, Cecile Doucet-Greene, was identified by Sutherland in his presentation of the matter and had been provided no prior notice whatsoever that her case would be the subject of discussion. Given that the reps assembly agenda is set several days in advance, Sutherland and the other members of the executive had all the time in the world to notify Ms Doucet-Greene of the fact that her case would be discussed. Had this simply been about informing the members in good faith, such notice would have been provided. The fact that it wasn’t illustrates that this was an ambush, made in bad faith to score cheap political points.
Thus when Sutherland presented the complaint as having no merit and frivolously wasting the money the union had to spend to defend itself, Ms Doucet-Greene lacked the documentation she would have liked to distribute in her defence. I then offered to publish this documentation on this blog so that the members could read the complaint and the ruling for themselves.
Ms Doucet-Greene’s complaint was centred on the process by which a controversial new disciplinary measure, forced transfer, had been added to the MTA’s local collective agreement with the school board. In the document Ms Doucet-Greene submitted to the Labour Relations Commission she summarizes her complaint as follows:
To summarize, the union leadership:
a) failed to consult the general membership in order to formulate the local demands as promised;
b) violated the by-laws in the formulation of the negotiating committee
c) exceeded the budget for syndical release by $19,000 without consulting the members;
d) did not consult the membership before agreeing in principle to the offer to forced transfer for disciplinary reasons, thus exceeding their mandate;
e) failed to explain to the members that the application of that clause causes the teacher to be declared guilty before having any means of defending himself/herself. There is no due process in front of an impartial arbitrator before the teacher is transferred;
f) failed to explain that this disciplinary measure cannot be applied to certain teachers because the school board has only one school where their specialty is taught, specifically, Laurier-Macdonald Vocational Centre, Rosemont Technology Centre, and Pius X Culinary Institute; there is nowhere to transfer these teachers to. This clause discriminates amongst individual teachers themselves; (see Doc 12)
g) did not even provide appropriate documentation for the vote on the local offers at the Special General Meeting of March 27, 2012
h) constantly demonstrates its willingness to abuse its power.
Along with this complaint Ms. Doucet-Greene submitted a long list of documentation to substantiate her arguments.
What is noteworthy about the ruling is that, contrary to Sutherland’s suggestion that the case had no merit, the Commissioner’s ruling actually doesn’t address the merit of the complaint except in narrow reference to the fact that section 47.2 of the Labour Code can only be applied to the protection of individual as opposed to collective interests. In other words because Ms Doucet-Greene was not the specific victim of the actions by her union, the Commissioner ruled that the labour code did not apply to her complaint. Further, the Commissioner states explicitly that the labour code does not allow him/her to act regarding matters involving the internal by-laws and procedures of a union. The ruling also notes that the complaint was not deposited within the required six month delay that should have begun with the teachers vote on accepting the local contract.
At no point does the ruling address the merits of the central arguments of the complaint involving anti-democratic actions by the MTA executive that resulted in a provision that will make the working lives of all of its members that much more precarious. Granting the employer such an arbitrary disciplinary measure represents a particular danger for union reps whose activism in ensuring the collective agreement is being respected can often put them at odds with the employer.
Given that the ruling clearly indicates that unless a particular individual is victimized, anti-democratic actions by union leaders, including violations of the union’s own constitution, are not within the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Commissioner, it is all the more important that the members of the MTA read this complaint and consider its merits for themselves. Ultimately it is only the union’s grassroots members that can best put an end to this sort of anti-democratic behaviour.
As for Ms. Doucet-Greene, though she accepts the Labour Commissioner’s ruling she does not agree with it. “I don’t agree that this was merely an issue of collective interests” she said. “After having helped teachers at my school file a series of grievances years ago, I myself was subject to a forced transfer before this clause was ever negotiated. I have personally experienced how dangerous this clause is for union reps”. Unfortunately for Ms Doucet-Greene it is not possible to appeal a decision of the Labour Relations Commissioner