Union constitutions and bylaws are the central documents in the governance of internal union affairs and the relationship between unions and their members.

Unions faced with the unprecedented circumstances resulting from COVID-19, the declaration of a province-wide state of emergency under The Emergency Measures Act by the Manitoba government, and related orders issued by the chief provincial public health officer under The Public Health Act, including the limitation on gatherings to 10 or fewer people, may be grappling with how to comply with mandatory requirements in their constitution and bylaws. For example, any of the following constitutional requirements may be directly impacted:

  • Membership meetings;
  • Executive, council, and committee meetings;
  • Elections;
  • Specific time limits, and
  • Conducting important business, such as approving budgets

Most union constitutions do not contain provisions authorizing alternative means for satisfying the above kinds of requirements in circumstances in which they cannot be carried out safely, since the constitutional draftspersons never anticipated that a scenario like the one presented by COVID-19 might arise.

Our Labour Department has already been assisting unions with navigating their legal obligations under their constitution and bylaws in these challenging times and can do so for your union if you find yourself in difficulty in this regard. We can also provide advice and recommendations regarding possible amendments to these governance documents in order to better position unions to address similar situations in the future.

By Shannon Carson

This is to advise of the newest Public Health Order issued March 30, 2020, that will now require the temporary closure of union and association offices, further to social distancing efforts required by COVID-19.

A copy of the Order may be found at https://www.gov.mb.ca/asset_library/en/proactive/2019_2020/orders-soe-03302020.pdf

As per Order #3, businesses (other than exempt businesses), are now required to close their place of business/offices between 12:01 a.m. on April 1, 2020, and 12:01 a.m. on April 14, 2020.

The Order provides a Schedule which lists certain essential businesses that are exempt from the Order, and are not required to close their operations.

Although Unions are not specifically mentioned in the Schedule, they have been deemed exempt from the closure Order if they deliver services/support to a Government (Provincial or Federal), to a municipality, or to an exempt business.

A Union would, therefore, be exempt from the closure Order if it represents members who are still actively working for a government, a municipality or one of the exempt businesses. While the qualifying Union may keep staffing its offices and operations, it will still be required to keep those offices closed to its members and the general public, and must use remote means (e.g. online, telephone, etc.…) to deliver those services.”

For all other unions, the Order to close the place of business means that your union or association office must close, and all work done to run your union or association must now be done remotely (i.e. from staff homes), without staff attending the union or association office. During the period of closure, temporary access to the union/association office is permitted for the following limited purposes only:

  • Performing work at the place of business in order to comply with any applicable law;
  • Allowing for inspections, maintenance, and repairs at the place of business;
  • Allowing for security services to be provided at the place of business;
  • Attending the office to deal with critical matters related to the closure of the business if that cannot be done remotely, or accessing goods, materials, and supplies needed to operate remotely.

A business that provides staffing services, including temporary help, is an essential service that may remain open during this two-week period (see s. 68 of the Schedule.) Unions that run a hiring hall that dispatches workers to contractors can continue to operate under this section. However, in order to comply with the spirit of this Order, a hiring hall union office should only be open for dispatch purposes, with other functions and services being provided remotely.

Please check our website for any updates as they become available.