LRB rules against application by PoCo strikers

Union wanted to set up picket lines at other Westminster Savings branches, headquarters

Striking workers at a Port Coquitlam credit union branch have had their application to picket other branches denied by the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB).

Eight members of MoveUP, formerly known as the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378, have been on strike at the Shaughnessy Station branch of Westminster Savings Credit Union since Jan. 22 in a dispute over changes to its pension plan and job security. They have been without a contract for two years.

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The union wanted to be able set up picket lines at other branches, including the nearest one at Sunwood Square in Coquitlam. The union also asked to do the same at the company’s headquarters in Surrey and its member service centre in New Westminster.

In a hearing held the first week of April, the union argued the company was performing work and services at other branches that, if weren't for the strike, would be done at Shaughnessy.

Evidence was presented at the hearing that said business at the branch plummeted in the first two months after the picket line was put up. Transactions went from 7,485 between Jan. 22 and March 27, 2018 to 254 for the same dates in 2019. Conversely, transactions at other branches increased, with Sunwood Square’s jumping from 1,070 to 5,401 for the same period. In addition, online transactions increased more than 6%.

But in a ruling handed down July 4, LRB vice-chair and registrar Komi Kandola said Westminster Savings was not doing work at other locations that would have been performed at the Shaughnessy branch if it wasn’t for the strike. Although many members have chosen not to cross the picket line at Shaughnessy and go to other branches, they had the same choice before the strike, she wrote.

“I find it is the member, not the employer, who is choosing where the work is being performed,” Kandola said in the ruling. “I find the member is essentially engaging in ‘self-help’ and is choosing where to obtain banking services, as the member has always been able to do, both before and after the strike.”

Westminster Savings recently announced it will shutter the PoCo branch in the fall because of declining in-branch visits and transactions, and the high cost of renovating the branch to match the credit union’s new look and upgrading equipment. In its announcement, the credit union maintained the closure of its only unionized branch had nothing to do with the dispute. 

“Clearly we’re disappointed,” said MoveUP president David Black this week. “We thought we had a strong case for it [that Westminster Savings was] directing business to other branches and call centres. As a plain reading of the law, we thought we were correct.”

Many credit union members, Black said, are “very upset” about the closing of the branch but the LRB judgment won’t keep the union from fighting it.

“[Kandola] was very clear the ruling does not impede our free speech, to do rallies or hand out leaflets at other locations of Westminster Savings,” said Black, who said he didn’t believe an appeal would be contemplated.

“We’ve continued to agitate and activate on this issue in different ways so I don’t think reconsideration [is necessary].”

One of those “agitations” occurred July 5, when about 150 supporters from various unions marched from the Shaughnessy Station branch to Sunwood Square for a rally.

“It was very, very gratifying for our folks walking the picket line for the support they have been getting,” said Black.

He added the strike isn’t just for the eight workers walking the picket line. Black said tens of thousand of dollars have been donated by other unions because the dispute’s outcome could mean their pensions or security could be jeopardized in the future.

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