Editor’s Note: This is a revised version of an earlier article. We’d like to make clear that Scott Doherty, Naureen Rizvi, and Lana Payne are not implicated in the kickback scandal and were not investigated for a breach of Unifor’s Code of Ethics.
Unifor documents are available for download here.
By Lee Gilchrist
On July 20, the investigation report into former Unifor National President Jerry Dias was released to Unifor locals across the country. Also released were minutes from the union’s National Executive Board from February through June 2022.
The internal documents reveal the weaknesses and dangers of a large, powerful union without union democracy. The Dias Scandal and the power of the national leadership under Dias has exposed Unifor’s 315,000 members and the wider union movement to right-wing and corporate counter-attacks.
The kickbacks have been the focus of much attention, but not the behaviour which surrounds it, namely the role of top union officials in brokering business deals between a third party seller and employers who have signed collective agreements with Unifor. The antidote is union democracy, not a continuation of dictatorship and behind-the-scenes business dealings.
The report upholds a complaint of corruption against Jerry Dias. Dias is alleged to have collected a $50,000 kickback for helping a COVID-19 rapid test supplier establish successful business relationships with employers that included Unifor members. According to the report, Dias is alleged to have said the rapid test supplier would have made $300,000 in profit from the one sale linked to the kickback.
Dias’s assistant, Chris MacDonald, also helped initiate communications between seller and buyers and accepted half the kickback money. Very soon after taking the money, MacDonald told several other high-ranking Unifor officials – Naureen Rizvi and Lana Payne, and Unifor lawyer Niki Lundquist. Within six days of taking the money, MacDonald filed an internal complaint that Dias had breached the union’s Code of Ethics.
The report was delivered to Lana Payne, Unifor’s Secretary-Treasurer, in mid-March by law firm TurnpenneyMilne LLP after it conducted a “neutral third-party investigation in accordance with Unifor’s Constitution and principles of due and fair process.”
The report says Dias violated the Code of Ethics and his actions were “calculated and driven by his own self-interest and preservation, and not by a desire to uphold Unifor’s Constitution.” The report exonerated MacDonald of breaching the Code of Ethics.
Dias did not cooperate in the investigation, citing mental health and addiction issues. While the investigation was ongoing in February, Dias publicly announced he was going on medical leave and confirmed his retirement before the Unifor convention in August.
Missing pages and redactions
Rankandfile.ca downloaded the report and the NEB minutes from the Unifor Local 88 website on the evening of July 20.
This copy of the 29-page report is heavily redacted and missing sixteen pages. Two-thirds of another page is blacked out. Rankandfile.ca confirmed with a Toronto Star reporter that their July 20 online story was based on the same heavily-redacted report. On July 23, after the original version of this article was published, Rankandfile.ca received another copy of the report with no missing pages.
Key pieces of information remain redacted in both versions of the investigation report we received.
The name of the company supplying the rapid test kits and the $50,000 kickback is blacked out. The names of two individuals linked to the unnamed company are also redacted and referred to as “A” and “B”.
The report also censors the name of a “notable” employer that purchased the rapid test kits as a result of introductions brokered by Dias and MacDonald. No names of any employers buying the kits are provided.
The report states that person “A” gave the $50,000 kickback to Dias, and person “B” was in regular contact with Chris MacDonald, Assistant to the National President (Dias). The report says Dias had a “personal relationship” with “A”.
Nearly all the 1700 pages of NEB minutes are unredacted. There is one notable section of over 60 pages blacked out from the March NEB minutes. The section is a discussion with communications officer Kathleen O’Keefe about “communications strategy” and “stakeholder stuff”. There is no information about who constitutes a stakeholder in this discussion.
Ultimately, the redacted report provides no significant new revelations. The National Executive Board minutes show a union leadership struggling with the bombshell corruption scandal, a chaotic struggle over the control of information, and a keen awareness that the NEB sits atop a volcano of membership anger.
The report says Dias pressured MacDonald into reluctantly accepting half the money ($25,000) at a January 20 2022 meeting between the two at the Unifor offices in Toronto. Later that same day, MacDonald informed Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi about what happened. MacDonald then spoke with in-house Unifor lawyer Niki Lundquist, and finally Lana Payne, the National Secretary-Treasurer.
A January 24 meeting was convened with MacDonald, Rizvi, Payne and Lundquist. Two days after the meeting, on January 26, MacDonald lodged the formal complaint about Dias accepting the money.
The report states that MacDonald should not have accepted the money from Dias, but did so under pressure from Dias. In their judgement, the investigators explain that MacDonald’s behaviour before and after accepting the money was sufficient to clear him of breaching the Code of Ethics.
For example, the report says MacDonald resisted accepting favours from “B” in December 2021, and told Dias at their January 20 2022 meeting that the money should be donated to a women’s shelter. The report also cites MacDonald’s subsequent communications with Rizvi, Payne, and Lundquist, and his full cooperation with the investigation.
Dias was notified of the investigation on January 29 and asked to participate. The investigation report was sent to Lana Payne on March 15. The report was first discussed by the NEB in-camera on March 21.
Condos and cologne
After the scandal broke, the Globe & Mail reported on March 25 about three properties owned by Dias, including two homes in Ontario and a retirement community condo in Florida. According to the Globe & Mail story, Dias purchased $1.13 million Milton home in February 2018, and then purchased a $1.2 million condo in downtown Toronto in September 2021. The Toronto condo was purchased without a mortgage.
The March 25 Globe & Mail story also reports Dias’s condo unit in Florida is in the same community as Scott Doherty. Doherty was not implicated in the kickback, and was never the subject of MacDonald’s complaint or investigated for breaching the union’s Code of Ethics.
The report says that three bottles of cologne are also supplied as gifts to Dias, MacDonald and Doherty. There is no evidence anybody accepted these gifts.
The second report without missing pages says Doherty was a credible witness but “not a particularly cooperative witness.” This is also an aspect of the Toronto Star’s story published online July 20 2022. According to the report, Doherty did not turn over requested documentation as of the time of the report’s submission (March 15 2022). At the March 21 2022 NEB meeting, Doherty is on record stating that he did in fact turn over all his emails to the investigators and that the report was not accurate in this regard. Doherty pointed out at the NEB meeting that he was never the subject of the investigation. The report says Doherty corroborated evidence provided by MacDonald and Rizvi.
Rizvi was the only other person interviewed in the investigation, and, according to the report, the first person MacDonald spoke to about the $25,000 after he accepted it. After confiding in Rizvi on the same day he received the money, the two had several phone discussions before deciding to approach the in-house lawyer Niki Lundquist. After MacDonald and Rizvi met with Lundquist, they had their meeting with Payne on January 24 after which MacDonald filed the formal complaint.
In a statement to Rankandfile.ca, Scott Doherty commented, “There was never a scenario where the former president would avoid facing the NEB and admitting what he had done, and the NEB would decide the penalty. I negotiate and resolve grievances every day and believe a mediated settlement, which the union had legal advice on was in the best interest of members, and was a better path.” Doherty also claims that some individuals involved in the “investigation and the interim report were determined to use it for their political ambitions rather than transparency for our members.”
Based on what we know from the report and NEB minutes, neither Payne nor Lundquist were interviewed in the investigation.
A corrupted coronation
After the investigation got underway on January 29, Dias chaired an NEB meeting on February 1. In this meeting, the NEB votes unanimously for Doherty as “the National Executive Board’s candidate for the President of Unifor.” According to the report, Dias had already announced Doherty as his successor at a January 19 Unifor leadership meeting.
After the February 1 NEB meeting, the investigation continued through February. Doherty’s presidential candidacy went public, Dias announced he was going on medical leave, and Unifor Local 444 President David Cassidy announced his presidential candidacy. Cassidy said he was running against Doherty because he correctly understood Doherty was “next in line”.
On March 11, Dias announced his immediate retirement. On March 14, Unifor released a statement saying Dias was under investigation for an ethics breach. Payne received the investigation report a day later according to the date on the redacted report. On March 17, the Globe & Mail published a story claiming several sources (NEB members, staff, or both) that the NEB was discussing not releasing the investigation report to the membership.
Also leaked to the Globe & Mail was a February 27 email from Cassidy to some of the Unifor leadership about the investigation. According to the March 21 NEB minutes, Cassidy said the leaked email went to four NEB members, including Payne. Based on these March 21 minutes, it appears that inquiries from the Globe & Mail prompted the March 14 press release from Unifor before Payne received the investigation report.
At the March 21 NEB meeting motions were put forward to keep all discussion confidential, to have all cell phones collected, and move the session in-camera (no recorded minutes). At the start of the meeting, chaired by Payne, things quickly descended into a dispute over the leaked email. Cassidy denied responsibility, noting his email was circulated to at least four other NEB members.
The NEB met again the following day on March 22. At this meeting, Doherty comes under scrutiny from other NEB members. Yves Guérette, chair of Unifor’s Forestry Council, asks Doherty why the report says he didn’t hand over papers to the investigator, and why Doherty “continued to ask Chris [MacDonald] to drop the complaint” against Dias. Guérette described Chris has a “hero” for filing a complaint “because Jerry was like a dictator.”
In the meeting, Doherty denied harassing MacDonald and said he was trying to “find a way to mediate the situation,” and stopped having conversations with Dias and MacDonald after instructions from Payne. As for his files, Doherty said he uploaded everything he had on March 5 to the investigators, although he said he no longer had his text messages and Signal messages to submit.
The next NEB meeting was on April 11. The minutes demonstrate that Payne’s candidacy for the presidency was now an established fact, whereas the March 22 NEB minutes only reference a two candidate race between Cassidy and Doherty. On April 12, Payne’s candidacy was publicly announced on Facebook. Payne’s decision to run was made known to the NEB sometime after March 22 and before April 11.
Decerts and stakeholders
The NEB minutes show a union leadership keenly aware of the “uproar” in the ranks. In fact, NEB member Ruth Pryce, who comes out of long-term care, mentions on March 21 that “one of the biggest units that we have is going to decert.” There is further mention that there are many decert efforts because of the scandal. No specific locals are mentioned.
The minutes include NEB members referencing the UAW corruption scandal and corruption in Quebec unions as warnings about what is possible in Unifor. It is acknowledged that membership trust is broken and may take years, even decades to repair.
The March 22 NEB minutes includes over 60 redacted pages of conversation about “communications strategy” and “stakeholder stuff” led by Kathleen O’Keefe, a Unifor Communications Representative with an extensive background in Canadian media (CTV, Global, CityTV) and communications management.
Who are the stakeholders? The members? Who else?
Dias’s methods have been widely criticized as undemocratic and in many cases destroying union solidarity and upholding rotten contracts, such as two-tier in auto. Some Unifor members have consistently argued that union democracy doesn’t exist in Unifor and is instead ruled by a system of top-down patronage, political conformity, opportunism, and personal advancement.
It remains to be seen if the Unifor convention in August will see a real opening in union democracy, instead of the system of patronage and the power of the “administrative caucus” that carried over from the CAW days into Unifor.
Unifor presidents are not elected in a one member, one vote system. The president is elected by convention delegates. Delegates are supposed to be elected by union locals and the number of delegates from each local is based on the size of the local. Critics inside the membership say delegations are often handpicked and local democracy squashed.
This delegated voting system used by Unifor was recently scrapped by the UAW following the massive corruption scandals at the top of the union. The next UAW leaders will be elected in a one member, one vote system.
More questions than answers
The investigation report and NEB minutes provide no real clues about the unnamed company that delivered the $50,000 kickback, the unnamed employers that have a collective agreements with Unifor, or the identities of individuals “A” and “B”.
In a statement to the Toronto Star published online July 21, MacDonald says the test kits were supplied to employers “to keep our members working and for no other reason.” The Toronto Star also reports that Unifor is not naming the employers because they “were unaware of any wrongdoing.” The report does cite one purchase of 100,000 test kits.
The investigation is limited to the $50,000 kickback and gifts of personalized cologne bottles. The investigators limit their requests for documents from the period of November 1 2021 to January 31 2022. This represents the period of time in which Dias and MacDonald are said to be brokering connections between the unnamed company and the employers. A police investigation into Dias’s finances remains mum.
With the Unifor Convention coming soon, the presidential race has turned nasty and the NEB is embroiled once more in an expenses scandal. The union rank and file are left with few answers and a lot of new questions.
Why would Dias and MacDonald be working in secret to get rapid tests to an employer? What is there to hide about making sure the members have access to rapid tests?
Why did the company supplying the rapid tests see Dias and MacDonald as necessary in their business plan?
In introducing the seller to the potential buyers, did Dias or MacDonald make other arrangements with the employers that bargain with Unifor? Will collective bargaining in these workplaces be above board?
Was the company and employers also collecting money through federal or provincial government contracts? Were government officials involved in the deals?
Was the $50,000 kickback just smoke and we have yet to find the real fire?
For principled trade unionists, the biggest question remains: how can a movement for union democracy be built in Unifor and start cleaning house?