Arbitration board upholds union’s right to post referendum poster

A Board of Arbitration has sided with CUPE in a dispute over a posting on a union notice board during the contentious wastewater treatment plant referendum in 2013.

Along with the community coalition Regina Watch, CUPE Local 21 was a vocal proponent of the “Yes” side during the referendum campaign. The Yes side advocated for a publicly owned and controlled wastewater treatment plant to be built through the traditional public procurement model. Regina City Council and business groups supported the “No” side, which favoured a public-private partnership or P3.

At one point in the campaign, CUPE Local 21 developed a poster to promote a Referendum Barbecue event which took place September 17, 2013. The poster also included the following text: “YES! On Sept 25 vote to Keep water public! PLEDGE TO VOTE YES: Text YES 306.988.1754.”

Shortly after the union notices were posted, managers directed that the Referendum Barbecue posters be taken down from union notice boards.

In its March 6, 2016 ruling, the Board of Arbitration rejected the City’s arguments that the collective agreement provision in question – Article 3(D) – Notice Boards – restricted union postings to neutral information related to membership meetings, social events and such.

Writing for the majority of the Board of Arbitration, Arbitrator Allen Ponak wrote, “Under article 3D, the City agrees to provide easily accessible notice boards for the ‘sole use of the Union’ for the purpose of ‘posting notices of interest to the Union.’ The language in this provision is broad and contains no express restrictions, in contrast to contracts that require management approval before a notice may be posted.”

While the arbitration ruling pointed out that CUPE Local 21 would not be able to post notices that encourage illegal action or material that was defamatory or derogatory, it found that the referendum poster did not violate any of these limitations.

The Board of Arbitration stated that “unions are not precluded from posting partisan and political messages as long as the tone is not inflammatory or derogatory.”

“In the Board’s opinion, the Union had the right to communicate with its members through workplace notice boards established for its sole use on an issue, the referendum, that it believed was of interest to its members. Accordingly, the Board concludes that the instruction by management to have the referendum posters removed violated article 3D of the collective bargaining agreement. “

Read the full arbitration ruling here – Union Notice Boards Arbitration Award – CUPE Local 21-City of Regina

Download the disputed poster here – Referendum Poster