VIA Rail manager refused to abandon staff

Arbitrator slashes penalty for manager who didn't want to leave two workers stranded 900 kilometres from home

A VIA Rail worker who refused to abandon two employees almost 900 kilometres from home had his punishment reduced by the Canada Arbitration Board.

Réjean Martineau, a service manager, was given a two-year demotion after he refused to abandon two of his Montreal-based crew members in the Gaspé Peninsula when ordered to do so by a supervisor.

When the train from Montreal to Gaspé stopped in New Carlisle, Que., the passengers were told they had to get off the train and continue by bus to their destination. (It wasn’t clear in the case why the switch was made from train to bus.) VIA wanted two employees to accompany the passengers on the buses. When no volunteers could be found, Martineau told the two most junior employees to go. Both employees refused because they were tired and did not want to be on buses with 50 angry passengers. Martineau then asked the other employees and found two more senior employees willing to go.

At that point, Martineau was told that the two junior employees were to be removed from service and their VIA Rail passes were to be immediately suspended. In other words, they had to pay their own way home. Neither employee had the money to pay for the trip. Faced with that reality, Martineau decided to allow them to return on the train to Montreal. He was subsequently disciplined with the two-year demotion, which financially equalled a six-month unpaid suspension.

The arbitrator called the idea of abandoning employees as VIA wanted “disturbing, to say the least.” It called that decision a “grave error” on VIA’s part. But Martineau wasn’t without fault. He was less than candid with VIA in explaining why the junior workers had refused to get on the buses. Therefore, the arbitrator substituted a six-month demotion.

For more information see:

VIA Rail Canada Inc. v. CAW-Canada, 2005 CarswellNat 4961 (Can. Arb. Bd.)

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