Striking worker’s drinking, threats to shoot everyone not sufficient for dismissal: Arbitrator

Worker was stressed out and didn’t direct threats at any specific person

An Ontario company has been ordered by an arbitrator to reinstate an employee who was fired for consuming alcohol and making threats on a picket line during a strike.

The employee was a mining worker with Vale Canada. In the summer of 2009, Vale’s unionized workers went on strike. On Aug. 31, 2009, the worker was having trouble sleeping and went to the picket line for some companionship at 1 a.m. He brought a half-full bottle of alcohol with him and began drinking at the picket line, which was on Vale property.

After drinking for a while, the worker told a plant security officer that he was going to lose his house, he couldn’t find a job, and “someone will be hurt when the smelter shows signs of smoke.” After the worker was observed showing odd behaviour and heard calling people who crossed the picket line vulgar names, it was determined he was intoxicated and another security officer came over. The second security officer heard the worker say he was losing his wife, daughter and house and he should come back and shoot everyone. They gave him a taxi chit and sent him home in a taxi.

The company had developed a drug, alcohol and weapons protocol a week earlier that was posted at the picket lines and given to the picket captains. Due to earlier incidents involving employees and alcohol, the company was concerned with the worker’s conduct and decided to dismiss him for breaking its protocol by drinking and uttering threats and insults on the picket line.

The arbitrator noted that threats of violence were generally taken seriously be employers and the worker’s breaking of the picket line rules by consuming alcohol combined with the threats was “troublesome.” However, the arbitrator found there were mitigating factors that warranted lesser discipline than dismissal.

Earlier in 2009, the worker’s life was endangered in an incident at the plant where another worker suffered a serious injury. The worker required physiotherapy and had trouble sleeping afterwards. Also, he was having financial and marital problems that put him under stress. In addition, his comments weren’t directed at anyone, but were spoken generally and came during a bitter labour dispute, said the arbitrator.

“I am prepared to accept that his threats were little more than the frustrations of a troubled man who was under a great deal of personal, emotional and financial stress,” said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator ordered Vale to reinstate the worker, on the condition that the worker pass a medical assessment clearing him for a return to work as well as a drug and alcohol test.

For more information see:

Vale Canada Ltd. and USW, Local 6500 (Courchesne), Re, 2012 CarswellOnt 9904 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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