Protecting Union Rights in Union Trusts

On February 8, 2023, Koskie Glavin Gordon successfully represented the Union of B.C. Performers (UBCP) at the British Columbia Court of Appeal.  The decision concerned UBCP’s right to direct its benefits trust, and thereby allow UBCP members to transfer their benefits and certain assets held under trust, to an alternative benefits provider that serves both UBCP and the national branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA).

In a unanimous decision, the Court reversed the judgement below, and held that the trustees of UBCP’s trust (MBT) were required to comply with a member’s election to transfer his benefits under a clause that was recently added to UBCP’s Constitution.  The trustees were further required to amend its trust agreement to reflect changes in the Union’s Constitution, and to ensure that future health and benefits contributions received by UBCP on behalf of its members could be properly directed to the benefits provider of a member’s choice. 

The Court of Appeal’s decision on this novel legal issue is a significant win for UBCP members and for union rights more generally.  In its reasons, the Court drew special attention to the need to interpret union trust agreements in the labour relations context.   The Court recognized that in the specific context of union benefits trusts or pension plans, unions must often restrict the discretion and independence of trustees to maintain consistency with the rights guaranteed to union members in a union constitution.  Thus, in the specific case before it, the Court reasoned that if the trustees could refuse to adopt the necessary changes to the Union’s benefits plan, UBCP would have been placed in the untenable position of being unable to fulfil its health and welfare benefits obligations to its members.  Accordingly, the Court held that UBCP’s Constitution, and not the impugned trust agreement term, must prevail.

Koskie Glavin Gordon represented UBCP with a team led by Anthony Glavin, Patricia Deol, and Roberto De Luca.

MBT’s application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed, leaving the decision of the Court of Appeal intact.