Local 300's Greatest Shame: The Flegel/Puchmayr Deal
Background to a Backstabbing -
In the fall of 2000 when Chuck Puchmayr was elected to the position of business agent for the Brewery Workers' Union Local 300, beating out the longtime incumbent to the role Rick Sutherland, a number of us in the Union held our collective breaths in great anticipation of what promised to be a new and progressive era for Local 300.
After some 15 years or so of getting our butts kicked by the likes of Labatt and Molson breweries, it appeared at last there was some hope on the horizon for a membership that was reeling from the enormous changes to our industry we had experienced and the disastrous response to those changes by Rick Sutherland.
These included the merger of Carling's (remember them?) with Molson's; the advent of NAFTA (resulting in the loss of the protection afforded by inter-provincial trade barriers); and the takeover of Labatt's by the Belgium based multi-national brewing giant Interbrew and the ensuing ‘downsizing' by Labatt at it's New Westminster plant (soon to close completely in a matter of two or three months).
During my 30 year tenure as a member of Local 300 I had had the opportunity to work at one time or another at all three of these plants. I'd seen a lot of changes to our industry and I'd witnessed the progressive decline of Local 300 under Rick Sutherland's aegis.
And so it was left to Chuck Puchmayr to turn things around for us, to lead our union into the 21st century.
Unfortunately, with Puchmayr at the helm all we got was more of the same -and worse in my opinion, if that was at all possible.
The Flegel/Puchmayr Deal -
But the most deplorable aspect to Puchmayr's shortlived reign (i.e. one term as business agent) in my opinion was something I like to refer to as the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal'.
Because, with the stroke of his pen, Chuck Puchmayr not only abandoned my two grievances for unpaid disability benefits by Labatt and the Company's subsequent termination of me (while disabled); the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal' in fact, went far beyond a simple resolution of those two grievances.
The 'Flegel/Puchmayr" settlement with Labatt effectively served to rescind the decades-old right of Labatt employees to grieve a denial of disability benefits, rendering all future disputes of this type as a matter 'between the Claimant and the insurance carrier and hence not subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure.'
In my opinion this was an absolute abrogation of the union's duty to protect the interests and promote the well-being of sick, injured and disabled Labatt employees. The Union thereby relinquished its obligation to pursue a sick employee's disability benefits (in the event of a dispute) instead transfering the inherent costs and risks of litigation from the Union onto the back of the disabled worker.
In effect, the Union turned its back on the disabled Labatt employee and said to him: 'your dispute is with the insurance carrier and your only recourse is to sue the insurer at your own cost. Have a nice day and get lost.'
In light of the recent announcement by Labatt to close the plant at the conclusion of the current collective agreement, this matter might seem at first glance to be a moot point.
But in reality, the Flegel/Puchmayr settlement with Labatt has equally serious ramifications for other bargaining units, like Molson's and the jointly owned (by Labatt and Molson) beer distribution firm B.D.L.
The "Second Taylor" Arbitration Award -
Because, another aspect of this abysmal agreement by the Union with Labatt was the nullification of an important (and moreover, winning) arbitration award the Union possessed as a result of its nearly 8 years in pursuit of my disability benefits. The importance of this arbitration award to these other members of Local 300 concerned Labatt collective agreement language that was identical to that of Molson's and B.D.L.'s.
The arbitration decision in question was issued by Arbitrator Colin Taylor Q.C. on December 9, 1999 and was referred to in the Flegel/Puchmayr agreement as the 'Second Taylor Award'.
The 'Second Taylor Award' determined (among other things) that in my case Labatt had wrongly delegated the task of determining eligibility for disabilty to the insurer during the first 104 weeks of disability (i.e.two full years!), thus revealing that Labatt and the Union had likely misinterpreted an important provision of the collective agreement to the detriment of disabled Labatt employees for more than two decades, and possibly three!
That's up to thirty years or so of sick Labatt employees being bullied and coerced to return to work -often while still sick, injured and disabled -by an insurance company who in reality had no business -and in fact, no right! -to do so. All the while the Union had stood by and allowed this abuse of its sick and injured to continue unabated.
The enormity of that error in judgement and the responsibility in allowing that situation to prevail for all those years, in my opinion was the purview of Rick Sutherland, the union's business agent.
A Golden Opportunity Becomes A Knife in the Back...
But when Puchmayr took over from Sutherland in January 2001 he had the golden opportunity (with the Union's possession of the 'Second Taylor Award') to finally put things right for the membership.
Instead, he did the opposite and in so doing, figuratively stuck a knife into the back of the Union's membership in general, and specifically the Union's disabled members.
Puchmayr's agreement with Labatt thus served to protect Rick Sutherland's and the Union's reputation at the expense of the countless sick and disabled union members who over the years had been deprived of their rights.
...and Roy Graham Covers it Up -
So extensive has been the coverup by the Union of the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal' that when I brought up the matter for some discussion at a union meeting in September 2004, Union president Roy Graham refused to even comment on the matter, ostensibly, he said, because it was the subject of my longstanding Section 12 complaint against the Union to the Labour Relations Board.
I say: Roy Graham's NON-response to my questioning him about the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal' was uncalled for, because there was nothing preventing him from commenting on or allowing discussion of the Union's business in a meeting literally designed for that very purpose.
He was not being asked to comment publicly on the Union's actions. He was being asked to reveal to the membership assembled before him what the extent of the Union's deal with Labatt was -and moreover what was the likely ramifications and effect of that deal on the membership.
In the interim Roy Graham was asked in September 2004 to provide another disabled member of the Union (and former Labatt employee) with a copy of the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal'.
To date, Roy Graham has yet to do so. Thus, the cover-up of the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal' by the Union continues.
This is the same Roy Graham who is on record as publicly denigrating Chuck Puchmayr as a nonsupporter of 'working people' in respect to Puchmayr's seeking the NDP nomination in New Westminster for the upcoming provincial election.
However, in fighting my Section 12 Complaint, Graham continues to pay his lawyers (with the membership's money, of course) in support and defense of what has to be the most shameful example of a union's betrayal of its own disabled 'working people' that I have yet to hear of.
Rick Sutherland and the Flegel/Puchmayr Deal -
Particularly noteworthy is that "the Flegel/Puchmayr Deal" cited herein was in fact, originally conceived by Rick Sutherland and HIS lawyer David Blair and only later implemented by Chuck Puchmayr after his taking office as the Union's business agent.
I guess we all know whom to thank, then.
Below is a reprint of the text of the 'Flegel/Puchmayr Deal', Local 300's Greatest Shame.
THE FLEGEL/PUCHMAYR DEAL
Minutes of Settlement
LABATT BREWING COMPANY LIMITED
BREWERY,WINERY AND DISTILLERY WORKERS' LOCAL 300
hereinafter referred to as "the Union"
The parties agree as follows:
1. Labatt agrees to withdraw its judicial review application of BCLRB No. B10/2002 (Vancouver Registry No. L02 1041).
2. Provided Labatt contracts for insurance plans which provide the coverage required under the parties' Collective Agreement, the Union agrees:
a. determinations regarding whether an employee is disabled for the purpose of both weekly indemnity and long term disability benefits are the responsibility of the insurance carrier; and
b. disputes regarding eligibility for such benefits will be between the Claimant and the insurance carrier and hence not subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure.
3. Labatt and the Union agree the December 9, 1999 arbitration award between the parties (the "Second Taylor Award") will be considered a nullity and it will not be referred to or relied upon by either party in any future proceedings. The March 31, 1997 arbitration award by the Taylor Arbitration Board (the "Original Taylor Award") will continue to be of full force and effect.
Dated this 9th day of January 2003.