Sarnia Observer

Union lawyer terms allegations of evidence tampering 'bizarre'

By Mary Jane Egan
March 23, 1983

Allegations of tampering with evidence before the Ontario Labor Relations Board, were hotly disputed Tuesday by the lawyer representing Sarnia Local 1089 International Laborers Union at the continuation of a hearing into union hiring practices.

Alan Minsky, the Toronto lawyer representing union business manager Rocco D'Andrea, argued the tampering claims made during the hearing's last day Feb 2, were "positively bizarre." Mr. Minsky has been defending the union against claims by 31-year old Sarnia laborer Joe Portiss that discriminatory hiring practices under Mr. D'Andrea between 1980 and 1982 allowed some 50 of his fellow union members to unjustly receive work ahead of him. But the hearing took a strange twist last month when Mr. Portiss' Toronto lawyer Brian Iler announced he had documented 19 instances since the proceedings began in November, in which union records had been altered.

In a hearing which has become marked by the unusual, Mr. Iler was allowed to become a witness Tuesday to testify to alleged evidence-tampering. The hearing took another extraordinary turn last month when Point Edward Police were called to investigate reports of a substance being slipped into the drinking water on the table shared by Mr. Portiss and his lawyer. Two union members who drank from the water jug complained their mouths were burned but the sample, sent last month to Toronto's forensic laboratory, has yet to be returned.

As a result of the jug incident, Tuesday's proceedings resumed in a larger room at the Holiday Inn which is locked during adjournments. The hearing, to run until Thursday in the Great Hall, is open to the public.

Hearing chairman Michel Picher, conceding it was unusual to allow Mr. Iler to become a witness at the hearing, granted the request due to the seriousness of the evidence-tampering allegations. Mr. Iler testified he was"shocked" to discover 19 cases where changes had been made to the union's employee referral book.

Mr. Iler testified various laborer job classifications - such as forklift operator, burner and carpenter - appeared to have been added to the book which was an exhibit before the board. Much of Iler's case hinges on entries in the referral book and the union's out-of-work book since he has claimed Mr. Portiss's name was deliberately skipped over when jobs were assigned.

The hiring hall is supposed to operate on a numerical basis with a laborer getting work when his number reaches the top of the list. Mr. Minsky has argued that jobs will sometimes be assigned out of order if an employer requests a laborer with specific skills. The union determines a laborers skills based on what job classifications are listed beside his name on the out-of-work list. But Mr. Iler claims various job classifications were added to union documents after he initially examined them, presumably to justify laborers being called for work out of order.

Mr. Minsky spent over three hours Tuesday cross-examining Mr. Iler as to his recollection of how the union documents appeared upon his initial examination. Mr. Iler said he and his client spent hours carefully documenting the job classifications which appeared on union records during the period when Mr. Portiss was unemployed. He said his 19 claims of evidence tampering are based on the fact he did not record the 19 laborers involved as having the job classifications which now appear in the referral book. But Mr. Minsky argued Mr. Iler could easily have overlooked some classifications or "been mistaken" about others, in light of the fact "thousands of entries" appear in union records.

When Mr. Iler told Mr. Minsky he would be "very surprised" if there were any other classifications listed which did not appear in his own research notes, Mr. Minsky produced some 20 examples of such classifications. Mr. Minsky said the examples prove Mr. Iler was remiss in his research but Mr. Iler charged the 20 instances likely represent additional tamper by the union with hiring hall documents.

Mr. Iler argued since the examples cited by Mr. Minsky do not directly relate to his client's complaints, he likely overlooked them. But Mr. Minsky maintains, Mr. Iler has been mistaken in the past about alleged union wrong-doing citing additional complaints brought to the board by Mr. Portiss and later withdrawn for having no substance.

The hearing ended on another odd note Tuesday when Mr. Iler called local secretary Mary-Lou Lapratte who had told the board she transcribed a tape recording given her by Mr. Portiss which he secretly recorded at a March 11,1982 union meeting. Mr. Iler said the tape was initially recorded at the request of the Ontario Provincial Police in connection with an investigation being conducted into union business.

Mr. Portiss testified last month that he has been "sworn to secrecy" by police and told not to discuss any possible criminal charges against the union until after the hearing.

A decision is expected today as to whether the tape will be allowed in evidence. Mr. Minsky has already indicated he has concern about "the laws of interception of communication and whether my clients rights have been violated."

The case for Mr. D'Andrea is expected to begin today.

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