A large group of employees at University of New Brunswick (UNB) – Administrative, Professional and Technical Workers (APT) – received a favourable decision in their long struggle to unionize. On April 7, 2017, Justice Paulette C. Garnett, sitting for the Court of Queen’s Bench, rejected the application by UNB to deny union certification by the Public Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
“In a nutshell, UNB was using the courts to stall our organizing drive at the University of New Brunswick,” said Jeannie Baldwin, Regional Executive Vice-President of PSAC’s Atlantic Region.
The PSAC held its organizing drive more than two years ago, in the spring of 2015. The goal was to add the unrepresented APT workers to an existing union, the Professional and Technical Staff Union (PTSU), Local 60551 of the PSAC, which certified in March 2013. That application has not yet been looked at by the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board (Board) because UNB raised a preliminary objection. The Board dismissed objection in April 2016, then UNB filed for judicial review of that decision, which ended with Justice Garnett’s decision on April 7, 2017.
“We already represent 900 employees at the University and on June 25, 2015, our union applied for certification for certain positions which are part of the workforce of UNB and UNB objected that certification,” said Baldwin.
UNB’s argument to reject certification was based on an agreement over the scope of the bargaining unit of the PTSU.
“UNB said that (the application to certify the APT) violated the previous agreement to form the PTSU, where we had had to make agreement on the members of the bargaining unit,” explained John Hayden, past president of the PTSU, and current grievance officer for the union.
“(UNB) said that going to a second drive contravened that agreement. That really didn’t make sense because basically what they’re saying is that because (the APT workers could have been included in the previous drive), their right to organize had been negotiated away from them, which goes against their human rights … people have the right to organize and form a union. Any agreement between (the PTSU and UNB) cannot take that away from them,” added Hayden.
In her decision, Justice Garnett emphasized that the right of workers to unionize is a fundamental right protected under “freedom of association” through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She also ordered UNB to pay $2,500 towards PSAC’s legal fees. In PSAC’s opinion, this demonstrates that their judicial review was “frivolous, vexatious and used as a stall tactic.”
While the decision is favourable, removing an obstacle to certification, the result is bittersweet.
“It means that we re-set to … 2015 to deal with the initial application. All time in between has sort of been lost. We have to decide on a description of the bargaining unit, look at the signed cards, and see if it meets the level of certification,” said Hayden.
The application to certify the APT workers requests that they be added to the existing PTSU, making the status of the PTSU important for them. The PTSU has been experiencing its own long delay in their negotiations for a first contract.
“We certified in March 2013 … started active collective bargaining in March 2014. We are now into the fourth year and (a long way) from first contract … There’s no first contract legislation in New Brunswick. No legislation to move things along. There should be something to move things along. As we see in this case, there are all kinds of things that can be thrown in … to delay,” Hayden recounted.
In Hayden’s view, the experience of workers at UNB conflicts with the image UNB is trying to project.
“UNB tries to portray about being a top 100 employer, but when you look at their actions, it doesn’t add up. Here is a group of employees who want to form a union and UNB is doing everything it can to stop that … if they can help it, they don’t even want to get to the point where we can look at how many cards were signed.”
Asaf Rashid is a member of the NB Media Co-op.