Labour federation slams 'atrocious' privacy breach affecting Marystown workers
MHA implies layoffs happened after the company got the list of workers in favour of a union
The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour says there's no excuse for an employer being sent an application that listed which employees wanted to be part of a union, and an MHA wants to know whether it led to people getting laid off.
In a press release Tuesday, the federation said it is "shocked and deeply concerned" about the release of information.
"It's atrocious, actually," said president Mary Shortall in an interview with CBC's Here & Now on Tuesday.
"It's put the whole process of union-organizing in jeopardy."
The province's carpenters union says the inadvertent privacy breach involving Marystown workers could carry serious consequences for other workers.
On Aug. 13, Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers Local 579, which represents about 3,000 members across the province, sent an application to the Labour Relations Board on behalf of workers on the construction site for Grieg NL's new hatchery facility in Marystown.
A copy of the application was sent to the employer by the board the following day, along with cards signed by workers to indicate whether they wanted to be part of the union. Union representative Mike Williams said the sending of the cards is a breach of the workers' privacy.
"As per the Labour Relations Act, all the information is to be kept in the strictest of confidence and they have shared this information with the employer," he said.
"It was a mistake, yes, but it was a very costly mistake."
While Williams said the union has been told the cards were sent unintentionally, Shortall said, "There is absolutely no excuse for this error."
'A lot of coincidences' says MHA
Jeff Dwyer, MHA for Placentia West-Bellevue, wants an independent investigation, but said "it was the labour relations board who sent these cards back to the employer."
He goes even further, suggesting that after the information was sent to Grieg NL, a certain personnel decision followed.
"There seems to be, on a timeline, that there might be a lot of coincidences here," he told CBC's Here & Now on Tuesday.
When pressed what he meant by that, Dwyer said, "There was people laid off after this list was received. Whether that's a coincidence or the fact that the list was acted on, that's what we'd like to know through an independent investigation."
Dwyer wouldn't go so far as to say Grieg NL cut people who had signed their names in favour of a union. He also did not reference specifics, including the possible number of people affected.
"That's not what I'm suggesting," he said. "What I'm suggesting is that the list was released to the employer [and] we would like to know if that was acted upon."
Grieg NL, meanwhile, said Dwyer's account is wrong, although it stopped short of saying why.
"We do not agree with the characterization of the situation as presented by Placentia West-Bellevue MHA Jeff Dwyer," spokesperson Perry Power said in a statement Tuesday evening.
"We are unable to comment further because the matter is currently before the labour board."
Certification should be OK'd: Shortall
Shortall said the Labour Relations Board should grant an automatic certification to the workers.
"There is no way a vote can be trusted after this atrocity," she said.
"Workers have to know that if they want to organize a union in the workplace they have the right to do that under the law and they have the right to do that without being exposed to any danger at all."
Shortall added that confidentiality is key throughout the process, partly because, she said, employers have in the past put pressure on workers not to sign up in favour of a union.
She wants Labour Minister Gerry Byrne to intervene, but he said that isn't going to happen.
When asked about the issue on Tuesday by CBC, Byrne said he likens the Labour Relations Board to the court system.
"It is really important that no minister ever comment or make judgment about the functions of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador or the Supreme Court of Canada. That would never be acceptable," Byrne said.
"Nor would I ever make a comment about an administrative procedure within the Labour Relations Board, [it] being a quasi-judicial body."
The union has filed a complaint with the province's privacy commissioner, citing a violation of the Labour Relations Act. Williams would not say whether the complaint has affected the unification process or the number of workers involved. He said the union will release more information when the privacy commissioner's work is completed.
With files from Anthony Germain, Alex Kennedy and Terry Roberts