Union (CUPE) Misrepresentation Details

Only option (2010)

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 [1995] SCC).

CUPE 3912’s initial responses (2010)

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.

CUPE 3912’s failure to fairly represent (2010-2014)

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:

  • Claiming that the mild depression resulting from the stress of my surgeries and recovery made me “less easy going than usual”, which in turn justified the treatment I received by my employer - treatment which my union had initially agreed constituted harassment.
  • Accusing me of having a personality disorder, refusing to speak with me until I was cleared by a full psychological assessment, and then sharing that assessment with an untold number of others who didn’t have clearance to view it (a serious breach of privacy).
  • Telephoning my family doctor, without my knowledge or permission, in an attempt to have her reverse her earlier diagnosis that I was healthy and able to return to work.
  • Holding meetings with my employer, about my grievance, in my absence. 
  • Instructing me not to speak during disciplinary meetings with my employer, even in answer to direct questions and accusations.
  • Refusing to accommodate my medical recovery, as per my doctor’s instructions, in the scheduling of meetings.
  • Refusing to speak with my lawyers, or even allowing them to speak during preparatory union meetings. 
  • Misleading me regarding my Duty of Fair Representation (DFR) filing rights.
  • Ignoring, for a full year, my doctor’s requests for clarification on questions they posed to her, and then later blaming me for their delayed response. 

Final settlement meeting (Dec 2014)

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. 

Union - Fair representation, or an extension of the problem?

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.