Sarnia Observer

Calls prompted wife to tell husband to quit work

by Mary Jane Egan
February 2,1983

Although she never honestly believed any harm would come to her, Evelyn Portiss urged her husband to in 1981 to quit his all-night job with Sarnia Local 1089 International Labourers Union after receiving mysterious late night telephone calls, she told a hearing Tuesday.

Mrs. Portiss was testifying during the sixth day of an Ontario Labor Relations Board hearing in over 50 complaints by her husband Joe, 31 who alleges discriminatory hiring practices under union business manager Rocco D'Andrea have deprived him of work. She said her husband quit his job at Combustion Engineering in July, 1981 after someone called her about midnight asking "was I scared to stay at home alone with all that's going on." she said she received two more calls on consecutive nights "with just breathing" and as a result, her husband quit work.

Mrs. Portiss said she didn't report the calls to the police because she wasn't really worried about them but found them "annoying at night". She said many people thought her husband was "crazy" for "fighting the union" and some thought his life was "in danger" but that she never believed this.

Mrs. Portiss agreed in cross examination by Mr. D'Andrea's lawyer Alan Minsky that at the time of the phone calls, her husband had withdrawn his complaints against the union.

Mr. Portiss twice withdrew complaints from the board before proceeding with those now being heard. "He had dropped the complaint she said Tuesday "But all along he had been trying to get a case against the union and people said it was a losing battle."

Mrs. Portiss said she never learned the callers identity.

Some 15 witnesses have testified during the hearing at the Holiday Inn - many of whom are alleged by Mr. Portiss' lawyer Brian Iler to have unjustly received work ahead of his client.

One such witness is 15-year union member Oreste Gagliardi whose cross examination continued Tuesday after an interruption last week due to translation problems. Testifying through an interpreter, Mr. Gagliardi told the hearing he became so angry in 1981 with union officials that he threatened to kill union president Orfeo Iacobelli if the man didn't give him a job. Mr. Gagliardi, who testified earlier that he was able to obtain longer jobs by having a "few words" with administration said Tuesday he once got the job he wanted only after an altercation at the union hall during which he pretended to have a pistol and demanded Mr. Iacobelli send him to work. He said the incident occurred because his name had been "jumped" on the union's out of work list.

It is a similar claim by Mr. Portiss that has resulted in the hearing. Evidence before hearing chairman Michel Picher is that laborers receive work on a first come, first serve basis by registering with the out of work list and receiving a number from one to 1000 as work becomes available and as the list moves the laborer on top of the list receives the next job.

According to Mr. Gagliardi, his name was skipped in 1981 after he lost a job as a cement finisher with Inst-a-Rek. He said he was laid off due to a jurisdictional dispute with another union and that because the layoff was beyond his control the union promised he would receive preference for the next job. But instead of receiving the preferential treatment he expected, Mr. Gagliardi said he was sent to a short-term job which angered him. After the confrontation with Mr. Iacobelli, Mr. Gagliardi said he got a job with Collavino Inc. because it was "a little bit longer" and he believed this was what the union had promised him.

Twenty-four-year union member Donato Marinaro testified he also had a complaint with the handling of the out of work list. He said he suspected in December that his son had been "jumped" on the list and asked to be able to see the out of work book but was told by Mr. D'Andrea he couldn't view the list because he was working. Mr. Marinaro also testified he was laid off from a job at Lummus Canada due to a jurisdictional dispute but was told by Mr. D'Andrea there was "nothing the union could do" about it and that his name went to the bottom of the list.

In other testimony, Mr. Marinaro echoed evidence of earlier witnesses who said the union constitutions were unobtainable. According to Mr. Marinaro, he asked more than once for a copy of the constitution but was told he would have to put his name on a list and when "50 to 100" names were collected, the books would be ordered. According to Mr. Marinaro, Mr. D'Andrea estimated that could take as long as "three years".

Mr. Marinaro also complained of an inconsistency in union procedure regarding job classifications. Like Mr. Portiss, Mr. Marinaro said he had difficulty learning which classifications were recognized by the union. Evidence is a laborer's job classification is entered beside his name on the out of work list so qualified men are sent to the job. Mr. Marinaro said he had heard vibrator man was a classification and asked Mr. D'Andrea about it but the man denied it. Mr. Minsky told Mr. Marinaro his client is "putting you on notice he (Mr. D'Andrea) denies ever saying that to you."

Mr. Minsky objected to one of the last witnesses called Tuesday by Mr. Iler - Rheal Page, a union member who told the hearing he went to the hiring hall Monday of this week and was told the union has no list of job classifications available.

Mr. Iler defended the "relevancy" of the evidence saying "even at this stage there isn't a list of classifications," but chairman Mr. Picher ruled the evidence might be "good reply evidence" once Mr. D'Andrea is presenting his case, but is not relevant at this point in the hearing. Mr. Minsky had complained the hearing seemed to be "growing with each passing day."

The hearing continues today with Mr. Iler expected to complete his case and Mr. Minisky expected to begin the case for Mr. D'Andrea.

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