A Kelowna woman was denied membership at a plumbing union. She says the decision was discriminatory.(Steve Buissinne/Pixabay)

A Kelowna woman was denied membership at a plumbing union. She says the decision was discriminatory.(Steve Buissinne/Pixabay)

Plumbers union loses appeal on discriminatory membership denial of Kelowna woman

Former plumber Alicia Ferri alleged she was denied membership due to gender discrimination

The story of a conflict between a Kelowna woman and the plumbing union she wanted to be a part of continues.

According to the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB), the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry Local 170 (UA Local 170) and the UA Piping Industry College of BC jointly called on the LRB to reconsider its decision that found the union contravened the Labour Code by acting in a discriminatory manner when it refused Alicia Ferri’s membership application.

In March 2020, Ferri re-applied to be a member of UA Local 170, having left five years ago due to what she alleged was gender harassment and discrimination at work.

When she went for an interview as part of her application, she wasn’t given any indication her application wouldn’t be approved. But by March 25, Ferri found out she wasn’t accepted.

She tried to get in touch with the union, leaving voice messages and emails but received no responses.

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Ferri then brought forward the membership denial and how that denial impacted her education at the UA Piping Industry College of BC, where she was studying to be a pipefitter, to the LRB.

The board found the union did act in a discriminatory way towards Ferri when it denied her application, ordering UA Local 170 to pay her $1,200.

The union, and the trades school, applied to have the LRB’s original decision reconsidered in 2021, saying the board’s original decision didn’t take into consideration why the union denied Ferri membership: the union only grants membership to skilled tradespeople and Ferri’s skills “were wanting”. The school also wanted a reconsideration, alleging it wasn’t given enough notice to apply to bring evidence for the hearing before being ordered to remedy the situation with Ferri.

But in the 2020 decision, neither Ferri nor the LRB asked anything of the school; the decision only ordered that UA Local 170 grant Ferri membership and pay her $1,200, which was the cost of her pipefitter course tuition.

“(Ferri) admittedly failed as a plumber and that admission was made to the Union in the absence of any suggestion that that failure was associated with gender discrimination/harassment,” the union said to the board.

In its August 17 decision, the LRB said it will not reconsider and will stand by the original decision, saying that it doesn’t accept the union’s rationale of only giving membership to competent workers while not demonstrating how it judges competence. The LRB also said it wasn’t convinced by the union’s assertion that it denied Ferri’s application in a non-arbitrary way.

The application has since been dismissed.

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


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