A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – The Story of “Uncle”

This story takes place before Dofasco had been purchased by ArcelorMittal, though I doubt it would have made any difference.

As I have said before, I met “Uncle” when I joined the SOP group in 1999.  Over the next 3 or 4 years a growing friendship and genuine respect grew for this man and he gained the nickname ““Uncle”.”  This is his story from my perspective and what happened to me for being willing to help him.  Some of the things revealed here are directly from him, some from piecing together bits of information from others that knew him in his various roles, and from watching him interact with both people in position to do harm to him and those who came to him for advice.

“Uncle’s” time at Dofasco covered a little more than 35 years.  He began by working in the Foundry and it’s where his back had been badly injured.  The Foundry was a dark, pain-filled building where molten steel was forged into various shapes, although train parts seemed to be what I remember most.  When the Foundry closed he was transferred over to Cleaning Services and  eventually he became a shift foreman.

Things began to change for “Uncle” when an employee got injured and was dying.  He told me that he had tried to intervene and was pulled off by other supervisors in the area and forced to watch as the employee died.  When “Uncle” couldn’t let those events go, he was ridiculed and demoted.  His life at Dofasco was made a living hell and he was banished to the Bayfront to write SOPs for the people who had removed him from his job.  That didn’t stop people from Cleaning Services or the Labour group hunting him down to get his advice.  There was always someone asking whether or not a supervisor had the right to do something they’d done.  Not many of them stopped to actually talk to him.  They just stayed long enough to get the information they were looking for and then they’d be on their way.

When I joined the group, “Uncle” had suggested to our Team Leader that since I had little experience in an office environment and since the desks were very old and not ergonomic it might be a good idea if I went for an ergonomics class.  He also suggested that since the other people in the group had been there for so long it wouldn’t hurt for them to accompany me so they could get a refresher.  It was agreed to and when the time came we went to the Medical Department in a Dofasco Taxi Bus.  On the way back, the Taxi Bus driver had to accelerate off of a rounded curb.  The resulting jolt bounced us out of our seats and we landed hard.  “Uncle” was behind me at the back of the Taxi Bus and the impact caused havoc with his already damaged back.

For the next few years “Uncle” and I worked together in various offices around Dofasco’s plant.  Sometimes I sat beside him, others behind him but always close enough to hear him or see him when he struggled and attempted to stand up.  To see this proud man need to hold the edge of a desk until his legs and back could take the strain of standing and moving was not always easy.  His first steps, each time he stepped away from his desk, were tentative and he would use the edges of the desks to help himself move forward.

In 2003, I received a subpoena to be a witness at “Uncle’s” WSIAT Tribunal Hearing.  I had been reminded to read the Privacy Policy about not disclosing sensitive information that was Dofasco’s, but since this dealt with riding in a Taxi Bus and not a process how could there be a problem.  There were a couple of others who had been called as witnesses too.  The day was spent waiting for our turn.  The other witnesses were called and their time spent before the Tribunal was about 20 minutes or so, after that came my turn. After being told that this was a legal proceeding I was reminded that I had taken an oath to be truthful in my disclosure.  I began by relating the story of leaving the Ergonomics course at Dofasco Medical.  At that time Dofasco’s lawyer asked me to open a binder that was sitting on the table, and open it to page 12, I believe it was.  There was a picture of a Dofasco Taxi Bus and he asked me what it was.  I said that it was a picture of a Taxi Bus.  Dofasco’s lawyer continued; “By your story then you were at about the 5th window?”  I told him that I couldn’t tell him that and he asked me why not.  I said that this wasn’t what we were on.  Getting angry Dofasco’s lawyer countered with “I asked you if that was a Dofasco Taxi?”  I looked at him and I stated that it is a Dofasco Taxi, but that it was a new Taxi Bus, not the one we were on and then turning to Tribunal I told them that in the year 2000 Dofasco had changed all of it’s buses.  I couldn’t tell exactly what the specifications were but I knew that they were different.  Dofasco’s Claim Manager just sat and glowered at me stone-faced.  I was asked about working with “Uncle” in the various locations and what I had witnessed of his difficulty in getting up and moving about.  Of course since I had pointed out the mistake with the Taxi Bus my testimony was cross-examined quite extensively and the whole of my time before the WSIAT Tribunal amounting to about an hour and a half.

As the day ended the Tribunal recessed for a few days and the next time I saw “Uncle” was a work.  There “Uncle” tried to print a picture of the type of Taxi Bus we had been on.  So I printed the picture, it was a picture I could have taken out on a street corner.  When “Uncle’s” WSIAT Tribunal reconvened the picture of the Taxi Bus was discussed.  “Uncle’s” Advocate asked the Tribunal to ensure that there would be no retribution against me but they said there wasn’t anything they could do about that.  A couple of days later my Team Leader called me into his office.  He said that, Robert Primeau who was an HR Manager, was forcing him to give me a disciplinary write-up.  I asked what for and was told for giving “Uncle” a picture of the Taxi Bus.  The only response I could think of was; “Really?”  So I read that I was guilty of sharing secrets with another employee.  I was in disbelief … all of this over a picture of a bus!  The policy I had read before going to the Tribunal had said nothing about pictures and since a Taxi Bus had nothing to do with making steel it seemed to be quite a stretch of any policy!  I refused to sign, which was a right I was informed that I had, but I did have the right to issue a rebuttal, which I gladly did!  As I went to my desk to write my rebuttal I pulled up the policy and saw that it had been changed to include pictures although the issue date was some time in January and the one I had read, the one without mention of pictures, had been online at the end of March.

What follows is my rebuttal.

“I feel that this form has been created to intimidate me.

While I did print copies of the old style of bus, signed and wrote a note that these were pictures of the buses that went out of service in the year 2000, I feel that this is nothing short of retaliation for being a witness at a WSIB Tribunal hearing.

I was subpoenaed as a witness at the Tribunal Hearing for XXXXX.

XXXX found the pictures and asked me to print them off.

The fact exists that Dofasco representatives presented to the WSIB Tribunal pictures of the current Dofasco small taxi.

This bus was not in service at the time of the accident and it was not the bus that I was a passenger in when the accident occurred.

To let those pictures stand would have been an injustice to the system and an unethical position that could not be allowed to remain.

I feel that bus pictures are not confidential and do not relate to Dofasco process, personal data or any other process in place at Dofasco.

I understand confidentiality and I do not feel that any confidentialities have been broken.”

After giving my rebuttal to my Team Leader. I asked if I could have a copy of the disciplinary report for my records.  I was told that I would have to get it from Mr. Primeau.  I returned to my desk and sent an email request for a copy of the disciplinary report.  Two weeks later I had not received any response, so I forwarded my original email with a second request for a copy.  This time I got a response.  About 5 minutes after the email, my phone rang and Mr. Primeau introduced himself.  He proceeded to tell me that I had no right to this paperwork; it was Dofasco’s paperwork.  As he kept repeating this, his voice got angrier and louder.  One of the other writers in the group was in the office with me, and was on the far side of the room, about 10 feet away.  This employee looked at me as I held the phone away from my ear and asked; “is that him yelling?”  Mr. Primeau could be heard  across the room and he wasn’t on speaker!  When I stated that I was “just asking” the yelling went on for a few more minutes.  Finally Mr. Primeau hung up and I was not going to get a copy of this report.  Later I learned that I should have been informed that I had a right to see it and make a hand-written copy for myself.

“Uncle” won his WSIAT Tribunal and I was told that Dofasco was cited for not reporting accidents.  “Uncle” retired from Dofasco yet that didn’t stop his fight.  Apparently a few months after the decision was rendered the compensation board over turned the Tribunal’s ruling in a move that “was completely illegal,” according to his advocate.  More of that story can be found here – Suffocated by the Steel Giant. I had heard that Dofasco had said that “Uncle” wasn’t entitled to use the pension calculator to figure out what his retirement pension would have been if he had remained a supervisor until that time.  The pension calculator was freely available to all employees and it was only after “Uncle’s” win did Dofasco put an addendum to the calculator that it was not to be used to project future earnings.

“Uncle” had to face a WSIAT Tribunal again, just to win back what he had already won.  By then the damage had been done.  “Uncle’s” health had gotten worse and his dreams of a comfortable retirement had been destroyed.  A company that set their sights on seeing him lose everything had finally gotten their way and had broken his spirit.

So for my part in all of this, the strikes against me grew.  I had been the only employee to continue to fight for my own health after the 1995 accident and I felt I had helped “Uncle” win his Tribunal.  I guess I had one more strike before Dofasco’s Claims would turn their full attention and wrath on me.


One thought on “A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – The Story of “Uncle”

  1. Pingback: A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – A summary of events | A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker's Story

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