When Unions Fight

Headlines get made when employers and unions wage labour war. Teachers fighting provinces, police officers fighting cities and postal workers fighting Canada Post all make for great news. Inter-union fighting makes less noise but is also fascinating when it ends up before labour tribunals. A recent case provides a great example of what happens when unions “raid” each other (“raiding” is when one union attempts to sign up members represented by another union).

The story seems to start here, with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) talking to its membership (Toronto area airport screeners) about “harassment” and raiding by the Canadian Airport Workers Union (CAWU) . The situation escalated, resulting in Garda Security Screening Inc., 2015 CIRB 764, a decision of the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

In short, CAWU filed a formal application to the CIRB to “take over” the representation of a group of airport workers from the IAMAW. The law allows raiding only at specific times and in specific circumstances (depending on the jurisdiction), but suffice to say that CAWU had met all the criteria and only needed to show that it had sufficient support from the IAMAW members to take over representation. IAMAW argued that its members had not truly defected and that there were “irregularities” in the process.

The CIRB agreed, finding that:

[19] … on the basis of the results of the investigation… there were numerous improprieties in the membership evidence filed in support of the certification application. In the Board’s view, the nature and the extent of the improprieties that were found have the effect of tainting all the membership evidence submitted in support of the application to the extent where the Board is not prepared to accept its veracity and to rely on it to order a representation vote.

Essentially, the CIRB found that a number of employees that the CAWU had alleged to have signed valid membership cards and paid dues (both requirements) had indeed not done so. The CIRB dismissed the application. The moral of story? Labour disputes aren’t just between employers and unions – union can also be extremely competitive with each other. It just generally doesn’t make headlines.

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