Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, says former President Jerry Dias broke the union’s code of ethics in an interaction with a third-party provider of COVID-19 rapid tests.
The update from senior trade unionists follows revelations of an external inquiry into Unifor’s longtime leader following an internal complaint.
The investigation has now concluded on the likelihood that Dias promoted a provider of quick tests to “various” Unifor employers, who subsequently bought the kits, union secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said at a Wednesday news conference.
At some point before January 20, 2021, Dias accepted $ 50,000 from the supplier, Payne said. Dias then gave a Unifor employee half of those funds, stating that the money came from the test provider, according to Payne.
The employee subsequently filed a complaint in accordance with Unifor’s Code of Ethics.
“We know Unifor members will be saddened by what you are learning today,” Payne said. “Our union constitution has a very strong code of ethics that is in place to ensure that no elected union leader acts for personal gain.”
Payne said Unifor funds were not involved in the interaction.
The allegations first surfaced publicly on March 14 that Unifor had received a complaint against Dias in late January, Payne said. On January 29, Dias was informed of the investigation, and on February 6, he went on leave with reference to health problems.
One month later, he informed Unifors’ board of directors that he was retiring with immediate effect, a few days before the news of the investigation became public.
In a statement sent to Star, Dias said he was “always governed by the principles of our constitution.” He said he was unable to participate in the investigation of the complaint against him on his “doctor’s advice.”
“My doctor has directly told me that I need help. That’s why I’m going into rehab. I also want to temporarily withdraw from all my counseling positions.”
Dias said his doctor’s leave was approved by the union and that his doctor provided a detailed health report to the investigator engaged by Unifor. He said his life took a “remarkable turn for the worse” due to a “disabling” sciatic nerve problem.
“It’s hard for me to say, but my coping mechanism has been painkillers, sleeping pills and alcohol. “These factors have weakened my judgment in recent months, and I owe it to our members to seek the treatment I need,” Dias said in a statement.
“Anyone who knows me knows that my work with Unifor has been my reason for getting out of bed for almost a decade. The union has been my whole life, born and raised. But now it’s time for me to listen to my doctor and put my health first. ”
Dias’ retirement triggered plans for an emergency meeting to choose his successor, which was originally scheduled to happen in August.
Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy and Dias’ executive assistant, Scott Doherty, are both in the running to replace Dias; Doherty has been approved by the National Executive.
In late February, Cassidy sent an email to management asking for transparency about Dias’ leave and for the external law firm tasked with investigating the longtime union leader. Cassidy’s email questioned whether Dias’ leave was of a medical nature.
In an email informing Unifor staff of his retirement on March 11, Dias said he had been dealing with heart problems beyond the sciatic nerve.
Unifor’s management met on March 21 to discuss the matter.
“We appreciate that the news of an investigation is shocking and worrying, but we want to ensure that all appropriate steps were and are taken in accordance with our Constitution while respecting the rights of all individuals involved in the process,” Unifor said in a statement. to the members. . The details of the complaint were not disclosed.
Dias was elected Unifor national president in 2013, when the union was formed as a merger between the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). Unifor represents about 315,000 workers in nearly 30 sectors, including the Toronto Star.
During his time as Unifors ‘national president, Dias maintained a high public profile, participating in international trade discussions and campaigning to keep General Motors’ Oshawa plant open. He also joined with other unions to advocate for stronger security measures for workers during the pandemic.
But he drew fire over wage concessions at GM’s iconic Oshawa plant, as well as for major decisions at Unifor – such as breaking away from the Canadian Workers’ Congress.
Dias was recently selected to chair the Premier’s Council on US Trade and Industry Competitiveness, established to combat “Purchase American” policies that favor U.S.-built electric vehicles and other U.S. products over Ontario products. He has resigned from this role with reference to health concerns, but had not resigned as of Tuesday, March 15th.
Featuring files from Rob Ferguson and The Canadian Press
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