Sarnia Observer

Demonstrators want 'union democracy'

Allison Lawlor
Nov. 13, 1999

Outside the union hall of the Labourers International Union Local 1089, demonstrators gathered early Friday morning to protest what they call undemocratic practices within the union.

About 10 people including a couple of union members, spent an hour outside the Confederation Street hall. "We're are seeking union democracy", said Laura Portiss the meeting's organizer.

Laura's father Joe has been a member of the union for over 25 years. His membership is currently suspended. A union manager says it is because he lapsed on his union fees. Laura said her father is appealing the decision, claiming he paid his dues on time.

Only a couple of Friday's demomstrators were members of the union. "These people have been harassing our organization and staff for many years," said Robert Leone, business manager of the Labourers' International Union Local 1089. Leone has been manager of the 540-member union for 14 years.

Portiss has been gathering documents for years in an attempt to prove allegations that the union's executive is defrauding members of benefit money and discriminating against potential members. She has collected close to 30,000 documents, she said.

The documents led to an investigation by the London OPP Criminal Investigation Bureau on Tuesday. Following the investigation, police dismissed the case, said Leone.

Tuesday's investigation follows a series of complaints made by Portiss to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, a civil lawsuit and criminal charges against the union's executive. Last year the criminal charges were dropped.

The civil lawsuit involves Laura's brother, who the family says has been trying to join the union for seven years and been denied. Meanwhile union executives; relatives have become members, said Laura.

Last spring Portiss and members of her family demonstrated outside the union hall, said Leone. "I'm afraid the system is not working for us and we need to take some legal action," he said.

The union's executive plans to file a defamation and harrassment case against the family.

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