by Mary Jane Egan
Joe Portiss, who has brought his one man
battle against Sarnia Local 1089 International Laborers Union
before a labor relations board hearing, remained resolute during
intense cross-examination Tuesday, insisting his union's discriminatory
hiring practices have deprived him of work.
Unemployed since June 4, the 31-year-old
laborer charges that between 1980 and 1982, hiring procedures
under union business manager Rocco D'Andrea have allowed more
than 50 of the union's 1200 members to receive work ahead of him.
Mr. Portiss, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago for election
as a union officer, alleges a rift between him and Mr. D'Andrea
has resulted in his name being deliberately skipped over on the
union's hiring hall list.
During day two of the hearing at the Holiday
Inn, Mr. D'Andrea's lawyer Alan Minisky of Toronto, was warned
by hearing chairman Michel Picher to restrict cross-examination
to complaints involving irregular hiring procedures.
Mr. Minisky had begun grilling Mr. Portiss
about a newspaper report he had been threatened by the union,
had been offered bribes to withdraw his complaints and fears for
his life as a result. Mr. Portiss refused to discuss the Nov.26
article, saying he "swore an oath" with the Ontario
Provincial Police that he would not discuss any alleged criminal
activity during the hearing.
Mr. Minsky requested the record show he was
willing to "pursue" the accusations but was restricted
by Mr. Picher who assured him the board attaches no weight to
issues raised outside the hearing.
Mr. Portiss, who joined the union in 1974,
claims hiring irregularities first became evident in 1979 when
he registered with the union hiring hall after being laid off
as a foreman from Chalmers Construction. He has testified the
union refused to recognize him as a foreman until 1981, even though
he complied with a union request for a letter from Chalmers Construction.
He has testified the union refused to recognize him as a foreman
until 1981, even though he complied with a union request for a
letter from Chalmers, verifying he held that position.
According to Mr. Portiss, Chalmers general
manager Chris Dawkins agreed in 1979 to draft the letter and mail
it to the union, although the letter was never received. But
in cross-examination Tuesday during which Mr. Dawkins was seated
in the audience, Mr. Minisky warned Mr. Portiss that Mr. Dawkins
denies ever being approached for such a letter.
Contrary to Mr. Portiss' earlier evidence
that he was laid off from Chalmers due to work shortages, Mr.
Minisky also said Mr. Portiss was actually laid off for frequently
falling to show up at work - a claim Mr. Portiss agreed to Tuesday.
However, the laborer remained insistent that
Mr. Dawkins had consented to his request for and e letter and
explained his dismissal from Chalmers saying he was filing for
bankruptcy at the time and had missed work due to personal problems.
Mr. Portiss also appeared undaunted when
Mr. Minsky warned he plans to call union assistant business representative
Orfeo Iacobelli to deny Mr. Portiss' testimony the union required
a letter from Chalmers before granting him foreman status.
Asked by Mr. Minsky if any of the apparent
discrepancies have prompted Mr. Portiss to want to alter his evidence,
the laborer replied "no".
Brian Iler, a lawyer Mr. Portiss secured
through legal aid in Toronto, has said his client is seeking lost
wages and changes to what he considers "arbitrary and discriminatory"
hiring practices by the union.
Mr. Portiss is also seeking a board order
to open all union records up to members at any time and an order
that proper procedures be adopted and put in writing by the union
and that any procedural changes be adopted by the union membership
and communicated to each member.
Mr. Portiss has cited dozens of instances
between 1980 and 1982 when he believes union members who were
ranked behind him on the out of work list, were sent to work before
him. He claims others received employment but weren't even registered
with the union's hiring hall.
He rejected Mr. Minsky's claims that he lost
some job opportunities as he lacked the proper classification
on the union's work list, arguing he learned 'only through the
grapevine' that classifications existed for such work as fork-lift
operator, tool-cribber or carpentry worker. And while there has
been conflicting evidence of which classifications do exist with
the union, Mr. Portiss has testified he never asked to see the
classes in the union's constitution. He has stated he tried numerous
times to receive his own constitution, but never sought to look
at one at the union hall.
Mr. Portiss has testified he spent two years
contacting such offices as Sarnia MPP Andy Brandt, Lambton MPP
Lorne Henderson, and the offices of the current and former provincial
labor minister and the Attorney General, all in an effort to resolve
his problems with the union. But Mr. Portiss was tight lipped
on Tuesday when Mr. Minsky asked the outcome of his efforts saying
he also sworn to secrecy not discuss those issues.
Asked to explain why his concerns never caused
him to lay a charge with the international union against Mr. D'Andrea,
Mr. Portiss said he put more faith in the labor laws of the province
than a higher union level.
He admitted to twice withdrawing earlier
complaints but said this was because he had been led to believe
his problems with Mr. D'Andrea had been resolved, only to later
learn other union members were continuing to receive work ahead
Mr. Iler continues presenting his case today
and once he is finished, the union will offer its side.