Sarnia Observer

Lawyer Disputes Witness's Claim He Requested Letter From Company

by Mary Jane Egan
January 12,1983

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 of him.

Mr. Iler continues presenting his case today and once he is finished, the union will offer its side.

Return to

(c) All orginal work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved..