Lawyers weigh in on reserved transit lockout decision

The chair of the Labour Relations Board said the board will be reserving its decision after a day-long hearing on whether the City of Saskatoon's transit lockout is illegal.

Union says lockout is illegal, city disagrees

The ATU and the City of Saskatoon are back in front of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board today. (Dan Kerslake/CBC)

The chair of the Labour Relations Board said the board will be reserving its decision after a day-long hearing on whether the City of Saskatoon's transit lockout is illegal. 

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 615 and the City of Saskatoon were before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board Tuesday. The union is trying to get the lockout lifted.

The union believes the lockout is illegal, because it was filed while there was an unfair labour practice case before the board.

The ATU says the legislation is very clear, saying that all labour action must be stopped while there are any related cases before the board.

"As I pointed out to the board, the legislation uses the word 'any' and it says 'any' application," said ATU lawyer Gary Bainbridge. "It doesn't say a 'related' application or a 'certain' application."

However, the City of Saskatoon argues that the unfair labour practice in question had nothing to do with the lockout notice or any attempts to reach a collective agreement.

As a result, the city calls the motion a distraction, and worries it may set a dangerous precedent.

City solicitor Patricia Warwick says if the LRB sides with the union, other unions and employers could flood the system with unfair labour practices, making it impossible to strike or lock out workers.

"All unions' ability to strike, and all employers' ability to lock out (will be impacted)," Warwick said. 

The union, however, does not believe that the board's ruling will change anything.

"That piece of legislation has been there for 70 years, this has not been a problem in 70 years," said Bainbridge. "So, I don't know why, suddenly, in 2014, if the board does this, that there's going to be a sudden skyfalling problem," said Bainbridge.

Due to the complex nature of the matter, the board reserved its decision. It did not say when the decision will be released.

Talks between the union and city administration fell apart last week. It's not known when new talks will resume.

Ruling could harm labour relations

The ATU argues that the city's lockout is illegal, and Keir Vallance, a labour lawyer and an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan. believes there is a valid basis for the union’s claims.

One assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan believes the union has a good case in its effort to have the transit lockout declared illegal. (Courtesy Keir Vallance )
"If an employer engages in an illegal lockout then the board can order the lockout to end, for sure," he said. 

It would be a symbolic ruling, Vallance said, because there would be nothing stopping the City of Saskatoon from simply issuing a new lockout order. he said although the board’s ruling likely doesn’t have long lasting power to end the impasse, the impact could be devastating for the city and future labour relations.

"It certainly doesn't set the bargaining session on a very good foot for sure," he said. 

Vallance said that it’s impossible to know when the labour board will rule. He does, however, expect a timely decision given the circumstances.  

CBC's David Shield was live tweeting from the Labour Board hearing this afternoon. Read his tweets below.

On mobile? View the tweets here.


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