One day after the Lavigne hearing (see “Use of Union dues being challenged”) started before the Ontario Supreme Courts on December 18, 1985, an Ontario civil servant was granted partial exemption from paying union dues.

On December 19, the Ontario Public Service Labour Relations Tribunal declared that Rose Marie MacLean falls under a religious exemption to that part of compulsory dues which goes to promote abortion.  (This would only amount to pennies).  MacLean, until recently an active member of OPSEU (Ontario Public Servants Employees Union) and a Catholic, strongly objected to the pro-abortion stand of her union.

The Tribunal’s decision did not hinge on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the basis for the case of Mervyn Lavigne.  Rather, the ruling was based on a section of the Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act that says the Tribunal must allow workers who oppose paying union dues on religious grounds to pay the equivalent money to charity.

The Tribunal emphatically endorsed the union’s right to take stands on political and social issues – except that “employees with strong religious convictions should not be compelled to subsidize ideological activity by the trade union which conflicts with their religious convictions or beliefs.”

The significance of the decision appears to be twofold.  It is the first decision which say that abortion can be included as part of a religious exemption; second, it is also the first ruling that exempts a worker from part of his or her union dues.

The Tribunal according to the Globe and Mail (December 21) also declared that:

“It is futile to draw a line between matters of direct collective bargaining and social, political or economic matters.  Unions are the effective spokespersons for labor or for the members in all manner of matters affecting not only their general welfare, but their working lives.”

It is precisely this broad claim to an all-enveloping mandate which is being challenged by Mr. Lavigne.