The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this month that unions are
entitled to collect personal home contact information for
bargaining unit members from employers – even for employees
who don't join the union.
Canada's historic "Rand Formula" states that while
an individual cannot be forced to become a member of a union, she
cannot expect the benefits of union action without paying for
it. As a result, such employees pay dues but remain outside
the union itself. Bernard was one such employee who alleged
that the disclosure of her home contact information by her employer
to the union violated her rights under the Privacy Act, and section
2(d) and 8 of the Charter, (freedom of association and
unconstitutional search and seizure).
The Federal Court of Appeal placed several safeguards on the
shared information, but found that it could be disclosed due to
obligations placed upon unions pursuant to the Public Service
Relations Act. Also, the Court of Appeal found that the
disclosure of the personal information was a "consistent
use" under section 8(2)(a) of the Privacy Act, and therefore
did not breach the Act.
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal, finding that
the union must have effective means of contacting employees in the
bargaining unit in order to discharge their duties under the Public
Service Labour Relations Act. Rand Formula employees cannot
opt out of this bargaining relationship. In these situations,
the Privacy Act is not violated by the disclosure of personal
contact information of employees because the disclosure of the
information to the union is consistent with the purpose for which
the information was collected – to contact employees about
their employment. The Supreme Court found that
Bernard's Charter rights were not engaged, and in any case, her
Charter arguments were bound to fail.
The key message here: With the November
2013 picket line filming case, Alberta (Information and Privacy
Commissioner) v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local
401, this is the second time the Supreme Court of Canada has
recently ruled that union interests trump personal privacy
Bernard v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 SCC 13 (released
February 7, 2014).
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