OPSEU president defends union grievances over employees facing criminal charges

Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is seen in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The head of a major Ontario union says if someone deserves to be fired, they’ll stay fired, but they still deserve the chance to have their say.

READ MORE: London University Hospital medical technician charged with drugging, sexually assaulting patient

Warren “Smokey” Thomas is speaking out after the London Health Sciences Centre confirmed that OPSEU had filed a grievance over the firing of a medical technician facing sex-assault charges, though he stressed that he cannot comment on specific cases.

“A member pays his dues to be represented and we will represent the member no matter what the circumstances,” said Thomas.

Vincent Gauthier, 24, of London is facing charges after a woman reported to police being drugged and sexually assaulted during an electroencephalogram (EEG) procedure. Gauthier was suspended on April 25 and officials confirmed in early June that he has since been let go. He is due in court on July 3.

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When asked for comment, a hospital spokesperson would only say that “[g]iven that there are formal proceedings underway both in the courts and through the grievance procedure, and with our internal investigation still ongoing, we cannot provide further details at this time.”

Thomas said that when a member faces criminal charges, the grievance sits until after the charges are dealt with.

“So if the person is guilty, the grievance would just go away. But if the person was found not guilty, and this does happen, then at least they have grievance so they can to go back to the employer to say, ‘See, I was not guilty so you shouldn’t have fired me,'” he explained.

“But if you don’t have the grievance in, you don’t get to go back to the employer and say, ‘See, I was not guilty and I want my job back.’ Well, you didn’t file a grievance, so you are out of luck. That’s why in the unionized workplace, you fill a grievance no matter what.”

Union grievances have also played a role in the ongoing public inquiry into long-term care homes in Ontario.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Wettlaufer public inquiry pits nurses’ union against Caressant Care

The vice-president of HR at Caressant Care testified that the home decided not to go to arbitration after the union filed a grievance over Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s termination because of concerns that if they lost, she could be reinstated.

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The nurses’ union, meantime, argued that the union did not receive all of the information from the home and that the employer does not have to follow the “progressive discipline” process before termination when there is a serious incident that puts residents in danger.

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