Home Arbitration/Labour Relations IBEW breached duty of fair representation after Alberta electrician fired following arc flash incident: Board

IBEW breached duty of fair representation after Alberta electrician fired following arc flash incident: Board

by HR Law Canada

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 424, breached its duty of fair representation owed to a journeyman electrician who was fired following a serious health and safety incident.

The electrician — M.W. — who worked for Civeo Installations Employees LP for six years and was a foreman, was terminated on Dec. 2, 2022, following an incident involving an arc flash caused by cutting into a live electrical pipe. Despite the absence of injuries, the incident was deemed a severe safety violation by the employer, leading to his dismissal and a rehire ban.

M.W., a member of the union, alleged that the union failed to adequately represent him during the grievance process following his termination. The union’s investigation into the incident was found lacking in several critical areas, prompting the Alberta Labour Relations Board to examine whether the union had acted without discrimination, arbitrariness, bad faith, or serious negligence.

Hearing details

During the hearing, the evidence revealed that the union’s investigation into the incident was cursory and insufficient.

The Board noted that the union’s assistant business manager, after receiving conflicting statements from the electricians involved, failed to thoroughly investigate the discrepancies or review essential documents such as the Field Level Hazard Assessment and the work permit. Additionally, the union did not provide M.W. an opportunity to respond to the conflicting statements or the results of their investigation.

Board’s findings

The Board concluded that the union’s decision not to file a grievance was arbitrary, as it did not properly investigate the incident or consider the different disciplinary actions taken against the involved electricians.

Specifically, another electrician at the scene received only a written warning, whereas M.W. and another electrician were terminated. This discrepancy was not adequately explored by the union.

The ruling emphasized that while unions have discretion in deciding which grievances to pursue, they must conduct a thorough investigation and provide the affected member with an opportunity to present their case.

The Board stated, “In the context of a termination of a six-year employee with no previous disciplinary record, it was incumbent on the Union to obtain full details of these matters so that it could properly put its mind to the merits of the claim.”

Lessons from this ruling

  1. Thorough Investigation Required: Unions must conduct comprehensive investigations before deciding not to file a grievance, particularly in cases involving serious discipline or termination.
  2. Transparency and Communication: It is essential for unions to communicate their findings and concerns with the affected employee, allowing them to respond and provide additional information.
  3. Consistency in Discipline: Employers must ensure consistent application of disciplinary actions to avoid claims of unfair treatment. Differences in disciplinary measures for similar incidents should be clearly justified and documented.

The Board reserved jurisdiction to address the remedy arising from this decision, highlighting the ongoing impact of the ruling on both the union and M.W.. This case underscores the critical role of fair representation in labor relations and the importance of due diligence by unions in protecting their members’ rights.

For more information, see Waitson v International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 424, 2024 ALRB 51

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