The vice-chair of the BC Labour Relations Board has dismissed applications filed by a group of nurses, including six who worked for Interior Health, after they were terminated for failing to comply with the provincial health officer’s order that all employees in the health sector must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The ruling comes despite allegations by one of the nurses that vice-chair Gurleen S. Sahota is biased because he was appointed by David Eby.
Jacqui Bohmer, Cynthia Dykstra, Celina Gold, Andrea Henders, Vera Meuleman, Anita Roulston, and Corinne Mori filed applications to the LRB under Section 12 of the BC Labour Relations Code. They alleged the BC Nurses Union breached its duty of fair representation in the handling of their termination grievances. Most received termination letters in November 2021, while one got their termination letter in January 2022.
The termination letters noted that the nurses had been repeatedly advised of the PHO order requiring them to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to continue to work.
In a January interview with Castanet, Henders said she felt ignored, shamed, blamed and pushed aside.
Sahota decided to adjudicate all seven of the individual grievances noting that all are substantively similar, involve the same union, the same underlying circumstances and were seeking the same outcomes.
The BCNU grieved each of the termination letters, escalating the process to the second step and committing to take it further if necessary. But the nurses were unhappy with how long the grievance process was taking.
“They say that the process was ‘stalled’ and that the union had given ‘vague’ details and provided ‘no updates’ regarding the grievances and the grievance process,” writes Sahota in his decision.
The vice-chair pointed out that the BCNU had informed at least some of the applicants by the summer of 2022 that it was continuing to conduct an analysis of issues and was considering how best to proceed.
He also noted that before the Labour Relations Board will proceed with a Section 12 application regarding a union’s representation, an applicant must show that the union has made a final decision about how or whether to pursue a grievance on their behalf .
“The union has been updating the applicants and advising of the status of the grievances. Accordingly, I am not persuaded that this is a case where I should exercise my discretion to adjudicate these applications prior to the completion of the union’s involvement with the grievances and prior to the applicants exhausting any further internal union appeals,” concluded Sahota.
Sahota also refuted an allegation by one of the nurses made in a March 2023 email to the registrar that he was biased because he was appointed to the vice-chair role by then David Eby, when the premier was still the attorney general.
He noted that he was appointed through a merit-based competition.
“Other than alleging that it was not appropriate that the premier appointed me when he was the attorney general, alleging the premier has 'adamantly refused to allow healthcare workers back to work,' and alleging that 'political influences' are involved, the applicants have not raised any circumstance or ground that suggests that I should be disqualified on the basis of a conflict of interest or reasonable apprehension of bias,” wrote Sihota.
The vaccine requirement for health-care workers remains in effect in British Columbia.