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Plumber’s union ordered to grant Kelowna woman membership after discriminatory denial

B.C. Labour Relations Board found the union acted in a ‘discriminatory manner’
(Steve Buissinne - Pixabay)

A Kelowna woman has won her fight against a plumber’s and pipefitting union that denied her membership.

According to the B.C. Labour Relation Board (LRB), Alicia Ferri alleged the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry Local 170 (UA Local 170) denied her membership in March 2020.

UA Local 170 didn’t refute denying Ferri membership but said the decision didn’t violate the Labour Relation Code. Despite several inquiries on Ferri’s behalf as to why she was denied membership, the union ignored her and refused to give her a reason.

“The union chose to ignore Ferri in the hope that she would go quietly away,” reads a March 2021 LRB decision.

Filing a complaint to the LRB in the fall of 2020, Ferri alleged the denial was discriminatory.

She was previously a member of the UA Local 170 from 2007 to 2015, when she was working as a plumber. She left the trade, and the union, in 2015, claiming she was “discriminated against and harrassed regularly” due to her gender.

Ferri went on to find employment outside of plumbing but in September 2019, she heard about an LNG Canada pipefitting program that offered women tuition-free training and an opportunity for employment at an operation in Kitimat. Learning the apprenticeship required her to be a union member, she applied to go back to her old union under a different trade.

In March 2020, Ferri found out the union denied her membership, leaving her on the hook for the $1,200 course. She tried to get in touch with various people at the union through phone and email but received no response.

The union responded to Ferri only after she filed the complaint, citing its reason for not giving her membership as her “frustration with the industry” and “weak work.” The union also claimed Ferri “ruffled a lot of feathers.”

The board found the union “did not have a rational basis for its decision (to deny Ferri membership) and acted in an arbitrary, unreasonable, and therefore in a discriminatory manner.”

The LRB ordered UA Local 170 to grant Ferri membership and sponsor the tuition for her pipefitting course.

You can read the decision in full here.

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Twila Amato

About the Author: Twila Amato

Twila was a radio reporter based in northern Vancouver Island. She won the Jack Webster Student Journalism Award while at BCIT and received a degree in ancient and modern Greek history from McGill University.
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