• authored by news
  • published Sat, Feb 1, 2003

Worker wins in Supreme Court

MFD Weekend: Fighting our own battles and winning

Worker wins in Supreme Court, ruling slams union and LRB

A former CUPE member has scored a big win in the BC Supreme Court that could have implications for thousands of workers pursuing Duty of Fair Representation complaints.

Chris Budgell, formerly a member of CUPE Local 15, asked the Court to quash a BC Labour Relations Board decision that dismissed his DFR complaint without a hearing. The complaint alleged that CUPE was negligent in its handling of his dismissal grievance after he was fired, without warning, from his job at the City of Vancouver.

In a decision issued earlier this week, the Court found in Budgell's favour on two important points. The Judge ruled that CUPE failed in its duty to properly represent him:

Based on the record before the Board, the Union, arbitrarily, and without prior notice or consultation with the petitioner, appointed counsel, unknown to the petitioner, and unfamiliar with his case, some 24 hours prior to the date originally set for the arbitration. To appoint counsel at such late date, in the circumstances of this case, is the equivalent of providing no representation at all. No counsel, on such short notice, could properly and fully represent the petitioner's interest. It was a clear breach of the Union's duty to provide fair representation.

The Judge also found that the BC LRB's decision to dismiss Budgell's complaint without a hearing was patently unreasonable.

As pointed out earlier, previous decisions of the Board place a higher onus on a union in cases of termination. It is difficult to think of any matter more important to a union member than the loss of his job. Under the collective agreement, the individual union member rights are left at the mercy of the union. A union has an obligation under s. 12 not to act in a matter that is arbitrary, discriminatory or shows bad faith. The appointment of counsel on the eve of the hearing was in the circumstances of this matter, at a minimum arbitrary, and might, given the apparent hostility between the petitioner, Ms. Kilfoil and Mr. Merrick also constitute bad faith. In my opinion, the Board's conclusion that the petitioner had failed to meet the evidentiary burden was patently unreasonable. On the record before the Board, the Board's determination that the petitioner had not established that a contravention of s. 12 had apparently occurred must be quashed.

Unless CUPE, the LRB or the City appeal the ruling, Budgell's DFR complaint will be referred back to the LRB for hearing.

It's very common that workers' DFR complaints are pitched out by LRB's without even being heard. At the LRB, it's the rights of the employer and the union that count. Chris Budgell shows us that once you get past the labour relations "system", you have rights too.

The ruling

  • posted by siggy
  • Sat, Feb 1, 2003 8:07am

Nothing but admiration for you Chris. I know it's been a long haul. Thanks.


It is difficult to think of any matter more important to a union member than the loss of his job. Under the collective agreement, the individual union member rights are left at the mercy of the union

Anyone else reminded of the Loman workers?

  • posted by weiser
  • Sat, Feb 1, 2003 8:59am

Chris' case is a milestone in that the courts recognized that he existed as a person, and that people's rights are always affected by the activities of the corporate bodies known as Companies, Unions and the bureaucracies set up to facilitate their business dealings.

It's unfortunate that the Justice didn't want to and in some instances was restrained from wading too deeply into the pool of swill known as the Labour Relations System. Nevertheless, Chris, literally and figuratively took on City Hall and won a huge victory.

The employer and the union were blown away by a guy with one hell of an organized mind and a truckload of tenacity.

  • posted by lefkenny
  • Sat, Feb 1, 2003 11:18am

One step for Chris - one giant leap
for all union members. We owe you good buddy


Nothing but admiration for you Chris.


The employer and the union were blown away by a guy with one hell of an organized mind and a truckload of tenacity.

I can not tell you how personally happy I am for your personal win for your own sense of justice. There is no doubt that your determination to see justice served will make all of our lives better.

Chris, I salute you, and will always hold you with the greatest of admiration and respect.

  • posted by gbuddy
  • Sat, Feb 1, 2003 10:34pm

As the "petitioner" in this case, I should say what's been achieved so far is substantially due to the moral and other support that I got from a lot of people. That includes the folks administering and contributing to this MfD site. Ultimate success in the struggle for a just system depends on people working together. Everyone participating on this web site is making a contribution to that effort.

Also, thanks for the compliments, but the truth is I'm not smarter or more organized than anyone else. I guess I've shown a good deal of tenacity, but so would most other people given the same circumstances. It was evident to me from early on that if I could get this matter before the courts I'd have a really good shot at turning it around.

I'm not the only person that has been working at challenging the labour board(s) in the courts. I've met other people who were working on their own cases long before me, and I've learned a lot from them. My relatively quick success is probably mainly due to the fact that the circumstances in my case were quite simple. From what I've seen, it appears most serious DFR cases are more complex, however the underlying issues are the same.

Perhaps the labour relations community will try to rationalize that my case was an anomaly. But that's not really true. I believe many other DFR cases could be successfully challenged in the Supreme Courts. And if my experience is any indication, it's not that hard to do (though I can only say that now in retrospect). Anyone who has a serious complaint to take to the labour boards should first decide if they are prepared to take it to judicial review. If not, it probably isn't worth proceeding at all.

Perhaps the key point to understand is that people can represent themselves in court successfully. You don't necessarily need a lawyer. In fact the entire legal community in Vancouver refused to help me, and made every effort to discourage me from proceeding on my own. They all said this case couldn't be won. The process of preparing and getting to court is a mystery of course, because that's how the legal community likes it. But once you figure out how the process works, it is relatively straight-forward. I'd say a case is generally won or lost in the preparation. I probably won mine because of a well written and thorough affidavit along with a strong argument. The hearing itself, which lasted two days, was almost anti-climactic.

So I'd encourage other people to think about doing the same. One successful case is definitely not enough if we are going to effect some real change. I still have a struggle ahead of me as my case now goes back to the Board, however at some point, I'll document the steps that I took to get to a successful court challenge, so that others don't have to go through the same learning curve. Meanwhile if anyone has any questions, post them here or just email me, and I'll try to help.

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Sun, Feb 2, 2003 9:09am

This is a very significant victory Chris and I really hope that somewhere along the way you are able to put together a "how to" for the benefit of others.

The union and the LRB got nailed right where they deserve to be nailed the most: The pathetic quality of representation provided to members by union representatives and union lawyers and the perfunctory way in which DFR complaints reviewed by the LRB's.

Of course the labour relations community will be dismissive of this decision, call it anomolous or whatever. That's what they want to believe. If unions had to start treating their members like they are entitled to the best representation and LRB's had to start treating union members like people with rights, the whole damned system would stand on its head.

This decision is not anomalous. If it were, that would suggest that there have been many Supreme Court rulings on this issue and that they all went the other way. This is the first ruling of its kind that I'm aware of. It is therefore, a groundbreaking case, even a leading case.

Congradulations on your win Chris and we hope to hear more from you.

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