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May 28, 2015IM -
The Court of Appeal sitting in British Columbia has allowed the appeal and sustained the arguments of AFM Local Counsel Bruce Laughton in objection to a lower court decision that had set aside the trusteeship of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC) and declared Article 15(6)(b) of the AFM’s bylaws unenforceable in the province. Vancouver Musicians’ Association Local 145 v. American Federation of Musicians, 2015 BCCA 171. The judgment, issued April 16, poses a substantial roadblock to employer operatives in the area who aimed to hijack the union and then divert its resources to their own purposes and objectives.
Local 145 was placed in trusteeship in May 2013 as a result of an unauthorized buyout agreement made between the then-officers of Local 145 and an electronic media employer, Vancouver Film Orchestra (VFO), in violation of Article 15(6)(b) of the bylaws. The employer, backed by the former Local 145 officers, petitioned the BC Supreme Court to give effect to the substandard agreement and set aside the trusteeship. The rationale for this position hinged upon the provincial Labour Relations Board’s reservation of jurisdiction to “trade unions” whose key collective bargaining decisions are made by people in the province, as opposed to a national or international organization. Failing to spot the fallacy, the Supreme Court held Article 15(b)(6) unenforceable in BC because of its “relegation of a member local to bargain outside the protection of the [BC] statutory scheme, without the status of a trade union,” allegedly in conflict with other AFM bylaws presumed to require affiliated locals to be “trade unions” within the meaning of provincial law. Vancouver Musicians’ Association (Canadian Federation of Musicians, Local 145) v. American Federation of Musicians, 2014 BCSC 1713.
In stark contrast, the BC Labour Relations Board already had determined that the VFO agreement was not a valid collective bargaining agreement and was of no force or effect. Vancouver Film Orchestra Inc., BCLRB No. B197/2013. This decision was based specifically upon the board’s conclusion that the impugned bylaw was indeed a binding and enforceable provision governing the affairs of Local 145. According to the board, even if Local 145 is not a “trade union” under the BC Labour Relations Code, such fact does not render AFM Bylaws inoperative, and Local 145 remains subject to contract law, common law, and all other requirements of public law.
The Court of Appeal reversed the Supreme Court upon finding, consistent with the Labour Relations Board, that there were no conflicts in the AFM Bylaws and that their interpretation and application created no difficulties. Moreover, it found that the employer could not have reasonably believed that Local 145 had authority to enter into the buyout agreement, and as such, the buyout agreement is void. In summarizing the rather convoluted lower court opinion, the appellate justice stated, “… the judge in this case was not uncovering the true intentions of the parties; rather, she was remaking the agreement in accordance with her own assessment of what the parties’ priorities ought to have been. Such an exercise is not permissible.” Thus, the AFM’s authority to regulate standards for electronic media work throughout North America has been vindicated in a decision of hefty precedential clout.
The matter of the trusteeship of Local 145 has been remitted back to the Supreme Court for further consideration consistent with the Court of Appeal’s ruling.