Sarnia Observer:

Feb. 1983


By: Mary Jane Egan

A stormy week long labor board hearing into alleged hiring irregularities by Sarnia Local 1089 International Laborers Union took a dramatic turn Wednesday when the lawyer for complaintant Joe Portiss accused the union of tampering with hiring hall records.

Brian Iler stunned an Ontario Labor Relations Board hearing at the Holiday Inn claiming he has documented 19 instances in November in which union records have been altered.

The charges, termed "scandalous," by lawyer Alan Minsky representing union Business Manager Rocco D'Andrea, prompted an early lunch break but before the case had resumed, it took another bizarre twist.

Point Edward Police were called after two union members, who drank water during the lunch break from a jug on Mr. Portiss' table, complained the jug had been tampered with. Donato Marinaro, who has testified as a witness for Mr. Portiss, said the water burned the inside of his mouth while Jack Restivo immediately spit the water onto the carpet saying it tasted "salty".

The water was analyzed at Sarnia General Hospital's laboratory and although Const. Bill Baines later said tests showed " the trace of a mild acid" the lab's chief technologist refused to disclose the test's findings.

Joseph Blair said his tests were "inconclusive" because the hospital lacks facilities for a detailed analysis. He said he advised police to send the sample to forensic labs in Toronto. Mr. Blair said he was "not denying" what the officier said but stressed his tests are "only suggestive". The sample has been sent to Toronto.

Although both men were advised by police to attend at the hospital, they remained at the hearing after rinsing their mouths with water and suffered no ill after effects. Police have assured the hotel there is no problem with its water and that the incident was an isolated case.

Claims of tampering with exhibits and the jug incident will result in beefed up security when the hearing resumes March 22. Hearing chairman Michel Picher, who warned after a shouting match earlier in the hearing the board could close the hearing or call the police if necessary, ruled Wednesday this action would not be taken.

Referring to the water scare, Mr. Picher said the board doesn't believe "that kind of stupidity warrants that kind of action" but added further problems could result in a closed hearing.

Mr. Picher did rule that in the future, the hearing will proceed in a larger room at the hotel which will be cleared of all persons and locked after all adjournments. He also ruled that the union's out of work book and referral book two documents which had remained in the union's possession for daily union business will now become custody of the board.

The union was allowed to copy the last few entries from each book, so it can continue to operate its hiring hall.

Although the hearing was scheduled to continue today, Mr. Picher said the board was granting an adjournment at the request of both parties. He said the allegations of union tampering with the documents are "extremely serious" and the board recognizes Mr. Minsky wants time to deal with them. "We would expect the allegations to be dealt with carefully." Mr. Picher said.

Mr. Iler told the board it was "in the last few days" that he noticed irregularities in documents he gained access to in November when the hearing began.

Over 100 exhibits and 20 witnesses have testified to date on behalf of Mr. Portiss while Mr. D'Andrea's case will begin March 22.

Mr. Iler alleges that between 1980 and 1982, close to 50 of Mr. Portiss' 1200 fellow union members, unjustly received work ahead of the 31 year old laborer. Much of his case hinges on entries in the union's out of work list - the book in which all unemployed laborers are registered and from which they are assigned jobs.

Mr. Iler alleges Mr. Portiss and several union members have testified they were never able to obtain a list of job classifications from the union and therefore never knew which were recognized.

Wednesday's charges of tampering with exhibits arose when Mr. Iler asked witness Cesidio Iacobelli if he had ever registered with the union as a cement finisher. When Mr. Iacobelli replied "no" Mr. Iler showed his name with the words "cement finisher", in th out of work book.

When Mr. Iler produced a job referral slip for Mr. Iacobelli, again with the words "cement finisher" he said the words appeared to have been added to the slip because they bore a " different impression."

When Mr. Minsky objected to the suggestion the slip had been altered, Mr. Iler angrily told the board "I'm very upset with finding this kind of evidence and I'm very upset with having to call it and I wouldn't unless I was convinced it was strong."

Mr. Iler has said he believes entries have been added to the minute book of union meetings and other documents. He alleges some entries appear fresher, some are written in different colored ink and others appear "crammed in" as if they were added later.

He told the board he will either testify personally or call Mr. Portiss when the hearing resumes, to give evidence regarding the accusations.

The hearing has heard evidence that two secretaries generally made entries in the out of work book, Secretary Anna Iacobelli - daughter of local president Orfeo Iacobelli has attended each day's haering and frequently appeared to dispute testimony of various witnesses who described their recollection of how the out of work list was handled.

Various laborers have testified they never asked to see what entry had been made in the book but were able to learn where they stood on the out of work list by calling the union.

Return to

All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.