Labour groups and opposition political parties in the province are reacting to the announcement Monday that the NL Carpenters' Union, Local 579 had filed a complaint alleging a breach of workers’ privacy.
The complaint has been filed with the Newfoundland and Labrador Privacy Commissioner against the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board.
The allegation is that the board unlawfully disclosed union membership information to an employer, which the union claims is in violation of the Labour Relations Act.
"Violations which damage the integrity and which so egregiously impede workers’ rights need to be addressed and remedied without delay.” — Mary Shortall
Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said her organization is “shocked and deeply concerned” with the allegation.
“This atrocious breach of privacy undermines the fundamental right of workers to sign a union card and join a union of their choice,” Shortall said.
“The Labour Relations Board and the legislation are meant to facilitate a process — not impede it. Violations which damage the integrity and which so egregiously impede workers’ rights need to be addressed and remedied without delay.”
The carpenters’ union says that, in early July, a group of Newfoundland and Labrador workers expressed an interest in being unionized.
Local 579 then initiated the statutory process required to represent carpenters and carpenter apprentices at their worksite.
The news release did not identify the worksite or the company involved.
ATTENTION Newfoundland and Labrador Members.Posted by Atlantic Canada Regional Council on Monday, August 31, 2020
The release notes that an initial part of the certification process requires the workers to indicate, in writing, their interest in being represented by a union (via signed cards) — information meant to be kept in confidence by the board.
On Aug. 13, Local 579 submitted its application to represent the group to the Labour Relations Board — the application included the confidential signed cards. On Aug. 14, the news release claims, the Labour Relations Board emailed a copy of the union’s application to the employer, but also sent the workers’ signed cards which the union says is against the law, and places the integrity of the certification process at risk.
Mike Williams, regional manager of Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, said: "this failure and inability of the Labour Relations Board to address this matter is a denial of justice that can not be tolerated and new steps must be put in place to prevent such breaches of privacy in the future."
Shortall says sending an employer any information which discloses who signed union cards, not only puts workers in a precarious situation in their workplace, but has serious implications for any future organizing for all unions.
“There is absolutely no excuse for this error,” Shortall said. “This legislation has been in force for a long time. This unacceptable violation of The Labour Relations Act can paralyze a union’s ability to organize workers who have the legal right to join a union. It is not okay to violate this important process.”
Shortall said they are asking the province’s minister responsible for labour, Gerry Byrne, to intervene and put measures in place to ensure this can never happen again.
The province’s opposition parties also reacted strongly to the situation.
“These workers’ legal right to unionize has been completely undermined by this egregious mistake,” Coffin said. “For years the NDP has been calling for card-check certification to be re-instated in this province to prevent the very issue we’re seeing today.”
A news release noted that card check is a process by which if a threshold of workers lawfully submit signed union cards to the Labour Relations Board, no further vote is required.
Ches Crosbie, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, also expressed concern.
“How such a serious breach occurred in a quasi-judicial process demands an investigation to restore public confidence.”