Get your story straight, arbitrator rules

Unexplained absences ends in termination for steelworker

Ever-evolving excuses led arbitrator William A. Marcotte to dismiss a grievance against Essar Steel.

United Steelworkers of America (USW) Local 2251 filed a grievance on behalf of David Mazzuca, claiming the former Essar Steel employee was improperly and unjustly discharged. The former manufacturing line observer at the company’s steel plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was fired on Oct. 19, 2012, after missing two shifts in a week-long period in September. The company claimed Mazzuca was "less than forthcoming regarding the circumstances" surrounding his absences.

Mazzuca was absent during an evening shift on Sept. 15 and again during a morning shift on Sept. 20. These absences, and his inability to explain those absences, led the company to find him in breach of the provisions in his Conditional Rehire or Last Chance Agreement.

Ever-evolving excuses

Mazzuca was scheduled to work a 12-hour shift starting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15. About a week before the shift the grievor approached Marty Harris, a front-line supervisor at the plant, and asked for the day off. Harris testified the grievor wanted to attend a job interview in Southern Ontario. The schedule for Sept. 15 had not yet been set, and so Mazzuca returned to Harris a few days before the shift to ask again. Harris denied the request as the plant was scheduled to run at full capacity that day.

On Sept. 17, Harris arrived at work to find the grievor had been absent for his Sept. 15 shift. Tim Stevenson, the shift co-ordinator working that day, testified the grievor said he had permission from Harris to miss his shift.

The plant’s timekeeping system, which records when employees swipe in and out of the plant, indicated the grievor did not swipe in on Sept. 15.

Mazzuca’s version of events is significantly different. When he was questioned about his absences by the company on Sept. 21, he said Stevenson granted him time off. In his testimony during arbitration the grievor said he was at work for his evening shift, but became sick and had to go home.

He said his swipe card did not work because of maintenance on the company’s computer system.

Mazzuca also claimed Stevenson was "a liar" for claiming to be the shift co-ordinator that evening. He said Alan Amaroso was the co-ordinator he reported to before going home sick. The company’s shift report indicates Amaroso was done working when Stevenson swiped in for his 6 p.m. shift on the evening in question.

Illness-related delays

Following Sept. 15, the grievor’s next scheduled shift was on Sept. 20. The night before his shift Mazzuca called the company’s shift supervisor Lisa Mason to inform her his interview had gone well, but that he had been in a car accident. The grievor reportedly told Mason he was not injured in the accident and was trying to book a flight out of Toronto to be back in Sault Ste. Marie in time for his morning shift.

The grievor did not report for work on the morning of Sept. 20. Asked what he did that day, Mazzuca testified he was "stressed" and slept all day. He testified he left Toronto at 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 in a rental truck, as his vehicle sustained damage in the accident. The rental was mechanically defective and could only travel at a speed well below the limit. He testified he was ill and had to make frequent stops before spending the night in a hotel. Mazzuca was back on the road at 11 a.m. on Sept. 20 and continued to feel ill, making frequent stops until he returned to Saul Ste. Marie at 3 a.m. on Sept. 21. It took the grievor 29 hours to complete a trip that, under normal circumstances, takes no more than nine hours.

‘Defies all logic’

Essar Steel’s human resources representatives found Mazzuca’s Sept. 15 appointment was informal, and that contrary to what he had told his supervisor when he requested time off, the grievor did not have a scheduled job interview. The company found Mazzuca misrepresented the reason for wanting to be excused from his Sept. 15 shift and could have made greater efforts to return in time for his Sept. 20 shift.

The union was unable to provide the company with information on the grievor’s reason for absence on Sept. 15, but submitted the company was putting too much weight on the grievor’s actions between Sept. 17 and Sept. 21, when he was off-duty.

In his ruling, sole arbitrator William A. Marcotte found Mazzuca’s version of events "defies all logic in light of the evidence from the company’s witnesses and records."

Additionally, Marcotte found the grievor’s explanation that he went to work but left due to illness to be inconsistent with his previous claim that Stevenson granted him time off.

In his ruling the arbitrator, found Mazzuca misled Stevenson to believe he had been granted time off by a supervisor.

Regarding the Sept. 20 absence, Marcotte ruled the grievor left Toronto in time for his shift but was unable to attend work due to illness-related delays.

The circumstances surrounding the Sept. 15 absence, however, were enough for the arbitrator to rule Mazzuca was rightfully dismissed under provisions of his Last Chance Agreement.

The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Essar Steel and the United Steelworkers of America (USW) Local 2251. William A. Marcotte — sole arbitrator. G. Power, T. Scott for Essar Steel. M. Molinaro, P. Corbett and D. Mazzuca for USW. Nov. 5, 2013.

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