Trucker’s arbitration case shows how unions can fail us

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

As one would expect, the driver was terminated after the crash was reported. What will surprise you, though, is that according to a recent article by The Canadian Press, the driver grieved her termination and was successful in getting her job back.

9 beers. Or perhaps 12.

 

This was the amount of alcohol a Canadian truck driver drank before she lost control of her truck on a U.S. highway on the night of June 30, 2022, resulting in a single-vehicle crash. Miraculously, no one was injured.

 

As one would expect, the driver was terminated after the crash was reported. What will surprise you, though, is that according to a recent article by The Canadian Press, the driver grieved her termination and was successful in getting her job back.

 

On the night of the crash, labour arbitrator Huguette April found that the driver stopped twice to buy a six-pack of beer on her route from Montreal to Pennsylvania. April went on to find that, “The night of the accident, she needed to drink,” and that the driver “admitted that even though she knew she shouldn’t, the need was stronger, like something that she couldn’t control.”

 

Quebec trucking company Groupe Robert terminated the driver about two months after the crash and after the driver participated in an alcohol treatment program.

 

The arbitrator found that Groupe Robert failed to reasonably accommodate the driver’s alcoholism. This was despite the fact that the company told April that the collective agreement governing driver conduct provided that the penalty for drinking and driving is immediate termination of employment.

 

And this is why unions can sometimes fail us. Teamsters Canada, the union that represented the driver and challenged her dismissal gave a statement that it has an obligation to defend its members in work-related matters, regardless of the circumstances.

 

But Teamsters also negotiated the language in the collective agreement for its members and agreed and understood that there was a zero-tolerance policy for any member to be drinking and driving.

 

Collective agreements are almost always hard-fought negotiations. Every term can be a battlefield. And while the labour arbitrator that ordered this driver back to work seems to be bearing the brunt of the public backlash, what can be said of the union that challenged the driver’s dismissal in the first place?

 

Sure, employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations. But if the driver had a disability that needed accommodating, she was required to seek out the accommodation and participate in treatment. Employees are always required under the law to actively participate in the accommodation process.

 

In this case, it’s hard to imagine what accommodation could be given to a truck driver that shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

 

The fact is unions don’t automatically grieve every dismissal or complaint. They are not required to defend their member blindly and rarely do. What this decision tells us is that unions flexing muscle haphazardly can reap dangerous consequences. Sometimes unions, too, get it wrong.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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