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Religious Objections to Union Membership

When the phrase “religious objector” is mentioned, most people would likely think of objections to military service. Few would be aware that the B.C. Labour Relations Code exempts certain individuals from union membership because, as a result of their religious beliefs, they object to joining trade unions.
The Labour Relations Board may order that the applicant is not required to join a trade union or to pay any dues, fees, or other assessments to the union. The individual must, however, donate equivalent amounts to a charity registered under the Income Tax Act.
The Board’s policy is that the individual’s personal religious convictions will be scrutinized, not the particular tenets of the religion. As a result, an applicant for this exemption must go farther than to prove membership in a religion which adheres to a non-union philosophy.
The individual must convince the Board that the objection to trade unions is based on deeply held religious convictions. The objection cannot be based simply on social, political, ethical, or philosophical grounds. 
The individual’s objection must also be to trade unions generally, not to a specific union or a particular action or policy of a trade union. The person’s convictions must be irreconcilable with membership in any and all trade unions.
Applicants should be prepared to demonstrate the basis for their objection and their consistent adherence to their beliefs over time. If the individual’s past conduct indicates an ambivalent position towards union membership, it is unlikely the Board will grant the exemption.
The applicant must provide the Board with a supporting letter from someone, such as a member of the clergy, who can explain and vouch for the sincerity of his or her beliefs. The Board also requires applicants to have first discussed the issue with the trade union.
A recent example of the process involved an applicant named Dykstra who applied to be exempted from membership in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Dykstra is a member of the Canadian Reformed Church. 
Shortly after being hired by the City of Abbotsford, he advised his employer that he would not, for religious reasons, be able to join the union. The union denied his request for an exemption – its collective agreement with the employer imposed union membership as a condition of employment.
In order to join this union, an individual is compelled to take an “oath of obligation” by which he or she commits to support and obey the union’s constitution and bylaws. Dykstra believed that the oath and the tactics utilized by trade unions (in the event of labour disputes) were irreconcilable with his religious beliefs.
The union’s view was that, while Dykstra may have deeply held religious beliefs, it was impossible to determine whether or not his objection to union membership was bona fide. Dykstra provided a letter from his church council explaining the source of his beliefs within the teaching of his church.
The Labour Relations Board accepted that CUPE’s oath of obligation created a potential conflict between Dykstra’s personal belief in subservience to God and his obligations to the union. The Board was satisfied that his stated beliefs reflected his personal religious convictions.
As a result, Dykstra was excused from the requirement of union membership. At his request, his union dues will be directed to Manoah Manor, a seniors long-term care facility in Langley, British Columbia.
The required form for applying for a religious exemption may be accessed via the internet at The process of applying for an exemption is not complicated and legal advice is not necessarily required.
Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log on to