Kelowna woman wins fight against plumber's union that refused her membership | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna woman wins fight against plumber's union that refused her membership

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A B.C labour union that refused a female apprentice membership, and then stonewalled her when she asked why, has been ordered to make her a member.

Kelowna resident Alicia Ferri filed her dispute against the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the U.S. and Canada Local No. 170, seven months after it declined her application to become a member and then refused to give her any explanation as to why.

According to a March 29, B.C. Labour Relations Board decision, Ferri made numerous requests for an explanation but was repeatedly ignored.

"The union chose to ignore Ferri in the hope that she would go quietly away," the board ruled.

According to the decision, Ferri was a plumber and member of the union from July 2007 to 2015, before she quit because of discrimination and harassment, largely due to her gender.

However, in 2019 she decided to apply for a different trade after hearing about a scheme with LNG Canada that offered women tuition-free training and would eventually see them working on the LNG site near Kitimat. Being a union member was a condition of the apprenticeship, so Ferri then applied to be a member of her old union again.

However, it refused her application and along with it left Ferri having to pay $1,200 for the training that the union would ordinarily have paid.

The union also said it didn’t have to give a reason.

The labour board disagreed.

"Trade unions are no longer viewed as private clubs that can admit or expel members for arbitrary or otherwise discriminatory reasons," the decision says.

Only once the labour board became involved did the union offer an explanation.

The union said Ferri’s work was "weak" and she "ruffled a lot of feathers" had had a "poor experience in the trade," and was "very frustrated" with the industry.

These excuses didn't sit well with the arbitrator.

"She had a difficult and frustrating experience when she was previously a member of the union due to gender discrimination and harassment," the decision says. "I note the union does not refute or otherwise address (Ferri’s) claim that she experienced gender discrimination and harassment during her plumbing apprenticeship and that this was a reason she left the trade in 2015."

In the course of Ferri attempting to get an answer as to why the union said no, several documents were revealed that date back to her time as a plumber, none of which Ferri was aware existed.

According to the decision, in 2013 or 2014, Bill Qually, who at the time was a manager at a plumbing company that Ferri had been assigned to, wrote to the union saying she was slow at her job and not to send her to the site again. Another company also wrote a similar letter to the union.

These letters were then used by the union as reasons not to grant Ferri membership.

However, the labour board points out that the union did nothing in 2013 and 2014 when the original letters were written, so it can not use them as evidence against her.

The decision says Ferri was never disciplined or had any other action taken against her while she was a member.

According to the decision in March 2020 when Ferri applied for union membership, the application fell on the desk of Qually, who now worked for the union.

She had an interview with him, and he made no mention of the letter he’d written years beforehand. He also wrote nothing on the form about her not being suitable for membership.

However, the union said the "knowledge" that Qually had was one of the reasons it wouldn't give Ferri membership.

"Looking at the circumstances of this matter as a whole, including the union’s lack of response to (Ferri's) repeated requests for an explanation for its decision to refuse her membership, and the reasons it eventually gave in response to the application, it is evident the union did not have a rational basis for its decision and acted in an arbitrary, unreasonable, and therefore in a discriminatory manner," the board ruled. "I find that it acted in a discriminatory manner toward (Ferri) by singling her out for differential treatment with respect to her membership application."

Ultimately, the board ordered the union to make Ferri a member and to pay $1,203 to cover the cost of the tuition.

— This story was corrected at 3:49 p.m. Monday, April 5, 2021, to say Alicia Ferri was harassed due to her gender. An earlier version said she was sexually harassed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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