Pulp and paper mill justified in refusing to collect voluntary union dues

Union wanted company's payroll department to deduct special voluntary contribution to help sister union in a strike at another company

A pulp and paper mill in British Columbia was right to refuse a request by its union to deduct a special, voluntary contribution to help strikers at another company.

The Eurocan Pulp & Paper Mill refused a request by Local 298 of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, saying it was being asked to go far beyond its contractual obligation and that the union was essentially asking the company to be its bookkeeper.

The union’s request

In January 2004, the union decided to help a sister local union engaged in a strike against another employer. It levied a “temporary and voluntary assessment” on its members. The union asked the company’s payroll staff to deduct the assessment from the wages of the 23 members who volunteered to help and to administer the deduction separately.

The company, which was already making and separately reporting six different dues deductions from the wages of about 340 employees in the bargaining union, refused. It said it was already deducting more than the collective agreement required it to deduct.

The union argued the employer had agreed to such voluntary deductions in the past, and that under the terms of the collective agreement, the company was required to collect union “dues.”

The arbitrator’s decision

The arbitrator said the company was not contractually obligated to deduct more than it agreed to deduct in the collective agreement.

Therefore, in order for the union’s grievance to succeed, the union had to prove that the temporary, voluntary assessment constituted “dues” as intended by the collective agreement.

“The ordinary meaning of ‘dues’ in the labour relations context does not include voluntary, temporary assessments levied for the purpose of providing financial assistance to another trade union,” the arbitrator said.

The company was within its rights to refuse to make the deduction for the union, even though it had agreed to do similar types of deductions in the past, the arbitrator said.

“It is sufficient to say that, on the evidence of the parties’ practice, the word ‘dues” (in the collective agreement) is not broad enough in scope to require the company to deduct the union’s 2004 temporary and voluntary assessment,” the arbitrator said.

For more information see:

Eurocan Pulp & Paper Ltd. v. C.E.P., Local 298, 2005 CarswellBC 3341, 143 L.A.C. (4th) 353 (B.C. Arb. Bd.)

Latest stories