In early 2010, shortly after the discrimination and harassment began at SMU, I realized that I needed to reach out for help. I soon learned that my only option was to appeal to my union (CUPE 3912) for assistance filing a grievance, as the courts will not hear a case between a unionized employee and their employer (Weber v. Ontario Hydro  SCC).
Though initially dismissive of my complaints regarding the treatment I was receiving from my department, when the harassment continued to escalate, my union officials could no longer deny that I was being discriminated against, even stating that my department had begun “papering my file” (accumulating justifications to terminate my employment). They filed a harassment grievance on my behalf in late 2010.
My union officials’ willingness to advocate for me did not last long.
My supervisor was well-known in union circles, being a well-published union researcher, a past president of the SMU full-time faculty union, and its current chief negotiator. In matters between an employer with union affiliations like SMU and one of its unionized employees, union officials’ interests will become conflicted.
In their role as my representatives in the grievance, my union officials began painting me as the cause, rather than a victim, of the systematic intimidation, discrimination, and bullying that I had been receiving. These representatives ultimately managed my grievance in ways that could only be considered misrepresentational; some of their bad faith actions included:
In late 2014, after waiting over three and a half years for my grievance to be processed (the time limit is supposed to be one year), my settlement meeting with SMU was finally scheduled for a Monday. Three days prior, at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, my union officials forwarded hundreds of pages of documentation to me, expecting that I digest and provide them with written responses prior to the meeting on Monday.
My doctor wrote to my union officials requesting a postponement on the grounds that my illness (and, I would add, my inability to speed read) hampered my ability to process and formulate responses in time.
My union officials ignored my doctor's request and held the meeting with SMU anyway. My harassers had also been scheduled to attend the meeting, in order to deliver an off-the-record “apology”, though I was only informed of this after the fact, their attendance apparently was to have been a surprise. Later, my union officials admonished me for not being physically well enough to attend the meeting.
My only option - as a unionized employee with a legitimate grievance regarding treatment by my supervisor and others in my department- was to involve my union officials in the process. The eventual realization that these officials intended only to join in with their own bullying and discreditation tactics was terribly disappointing, and added significantly to the stress I had, at that point, already been going through for several years. Their handling of this matter felt, frankly, very aggressive, disingenuous, self-serving, and unprofessional.
Though union officials are legally obligated to fairly represent a member’s employment grievance, they are also obligated to manage that grievance within the parameters of the collective’s best interests. This inherent conflict of interest can (and often does) leave the individual without legitimate representation, and therefore without access to real justice, with no means to have the details of their story heard in court, and their case addressed based on its legal and factual merits (Widdis, 2012).
Because the 2005 Trade Union Act prevents unionized workers from taking their union to court for misrepresentation, my only option was to file a DFR complaint against my union officials with the N.S. Labour Board.
My struggle to be heard, and fairly treated, unfortunately, was far from over.