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Manitoba Hydro taken to court

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by Richard Gilbert

A group of construction workers and a local open shop association are taking Manitoba Hydro to court in order to challenge the legality of the collective agreements which are enforced on all major hydroelectric construction projects.
Manitoba Hydro taken to court

A group of construction workers and a local open shop association are taking Manitoba Hydro to court in order to challenge the legality of the collective agreements which are enforced on all major hydroelectric construction projects.

“This is a constitutional issue,” said Harvey Miller, executive director of Merit Contractors in Manitoba.

“Five Manitoba construction workers have launched a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They are claiming their rights have been violated by Manitoba Hydro because they are being forced to join a union and pay union dues.”

Five construction workers, including Barry Millen, Terri Fordham, Rick Lesiuk, Floyd Stoneham, Michel Paul Pilotte and Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba filed a statement of claim against Manitoba Hydro in Court of Queen’s Bench on June 27.

Miller said the whole concept of taking legal action against Hydro starts with Project Labour Agreements, such as the Burntwood Nelson Agreement (BNA) and the Manitoba Hydro Transmission Line Collective Agreement.

These master collective agreements cover all large-scale hydroelectric construction projects undertaken by Manitoba Hydro, including the Wuskwatim Generation Project, the Keeyask Generating Station and the Bipole III Transmission Project.

The court document claims the requirement to secure and maintain union membership as a condition of employment, which is contained in these agreements, infringes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It also claims the requirement in these agreements providing for the mandatory payment of union dues as a condition of employment infringes on the Charter.

For example, all workers hired by an independent contractor or their sub-contractors must become a member of a union and subscribe to a mandatory deduction of union dues and fees from their wages, as a mandatory condition of employment on any project covered by the BNA.

As a result, the BNA compels all workers to join, financially support and associate themselves with a union, even if they are not members of a union or don’t want to be a member of a union.

“It’s a clear violation of these workers right to association, as well as a violation of their freedom of expression under the Charter,” said Miller.

“These people clearly believe their rights are being violated by joining a union and paying union dues as a condition of employment.”

The plaintiffs argue the Charter guarantees every person’s right to establish, belong to and maintain an association.

But, it also protects an individual’s right not to associate, which is the right to be free from compelled association.

This means individuals have a fundamental right to exercise free choice as to whether or not they will associate themselves with any group whose beliefs, ideologies and practices conflict with their own personal convictions.

The court document also states that compelling an individual to financially support a union as a condition of employment is a violation of that individual’s freedom of expression.

This violation flows from the unions’ public expression of support for political parties, policies or causes, that the worker does not support, as well as the union’s use of compelled dues to provide financial support or political support to parties, policies and causes, that the affected worker does not support.

The individual plaintiffs are seeking relief from these alleged violations of their individual rights under the Charter.

They are also seeking relief in the public interest, as this case raises a serious legal question.

Miller expects the defendants to respond to their statement of claim over the summer and the court to set a date to hear the case in the fall.

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