Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board rejects former Justice employee’s union complaint over unexhausted internal appeals

A sign reading union hall. Photo: HR Law Canada/Canva

The Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board has dismissed a complaint filed by a worker, JM, against the Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union (NSGEU).

The complaint, which centered around allegations of arbitrary, discriminatory, and bad faith representation by the NSGEU, was found to be premature due to her failure to fully exhaust the internal appeal procedures available within the union.

JM, a former employee of the Nova Scotia Department of Justice and a conciliator with the Family Court in Amherst, had resigned from her position in October 2022. This resignation came amidst a grievance filed on her behalf by the NSGEU, alleging a failure to provide a safe workplace, free of harassment and bullying. The grievance was denied at the initial stages and subsequently, the NSGEU decided against taking it to arbitration based on legal advice.

Following her resignation, JM was informed of the decision not to proceed with arbitration and the process to follow should she wish to file an appeal. Initially indicating an intention to appeal, JM later expressed a desire to withdraw her appeal due to medical reasons and pursue a Duty of Fair Representation (DFR) complaint with the Board instead.

The NSGEU’s defense was based on the premise that her complaint did not meet the necessary criteria outlined in Section 55 of the Trade Union Act. This section mandates that a complainant must exhaust all internal union appeal processes before approaching the Board with a DFR complaint. The Labour Board, in its decision, cited previous cases and the policy rationale behind this requirement, emphasizing the importance of engaging with internal union processes as a preliminary step.

The Board’s analysis concluded that JM did not make inquiries about accommodations for her medical condition that could have affected the appeal process. It determined that her decision to file a DFR complaint was based on a misunderstanding of the legal requirements and the applicability of the Canada Labour Relations Code versus the Nova Scotia Trade Union Act.

As a result, the Labour Board found that JM did not fulfill the statutory prerequisites for filing a DFR complaint, namely, she did not avail herself of the internal appeal procedures provided by the NSGEU. The complaint was dismissed on these grounds, underscoring the necessity for union members to follow established internal processes before seeking external legal remedies.

For more information, see Mills v Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union, Local 17, 2024 NSLB 1 (CanLII).

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