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 rights.

Bernard v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 SCC 13 (released February 7, 2014).