Long-serving truck driver at Regional Municipality of Niagara has dismissal upheld for creating toxic work environment

A truck driver walking up to a semi-truck. Photo: 1933bkk/Getty Images/Canva

An arbitrator has upheld the termination of a long-serving unionized truck driver at the Regional Municipality of Niagara after allegations of bullying, disrespectful comments, and threatening violent behaviour towards co-workers emerged.

The grievor, 47-years-old with 21 years of service in the Roads Operations department and nearing retirement, faced accusations of using inappropriate language, including referring to newer employees derogatorily and engaging in confrontational behavior.

He called newer hires “Miller Scientists” because they had previously worked for the Miller Group, a private-sector road maintenance contractor. There was a distinct divide between the new hires and longer-serving workers, particularly after senior bargaining unit members were passed over for promotions in favour of some of the external hires.

This behavior was highlighted in the grievance hearings through several instances, including a confrontation where the grievor allegedly made physically threatening gestures and derogatory remarks towards a coworker.

He told one worker that “you better watch yourself,” which the arbitrator said could be “reasonably interpreted as a threat to exercise physical force, especially after the grievor had been heard to say that he wanted to “hang” and “bury” the same man.

“No employee should face having to live or work in fear of an attack,” the arbitrator said.

Notably, the grievor admitted to some misconduct, characterizing his own actions as those of “an asshole” and a “moron.”

Despite the acknowledgment of inappropriate behavior, and his expressed desire to return to work after seeking help for anger management, the arbitration decision was influenced by the gravity of his actions and their impact on the workplace environment.

The hearing underscored the employer’s reliance on a comprehensive investigation rather than progressive discipline, concluding that the grievor was a key factor in the creation of a toxic work atmosphere.

Sampling of comments and behaviour

A sampling of the driver’s comments and behaviour:

The grievor’s self-description: “I am going to have to change, and I realize that. I have to start working professionally, instead of like a moron. I need to get along with Trevor, Scott and other managers. I see myself not liking myself right now, and I needed a kick in the ass by you guys to show me I am going the wrong way. I understand that I’ve got to change.”

Regarding his behavior towards new employees: “Fuck You. Get the fuck out of here – only truck drivers are allowed in the lunchroom.” This demonstrated the exclusionary and hostile attitude towards colleagues.

On his confrontational behavior: “Get that management shit out of your head. You’re not my fucking boss, you retard” and calling a coworker a “cocksucker” and “fucking idiot.” This showcased direct verbal abuse and disrespect towards coworkers.

His reaction to managerial instructions: “No. I’m not wearing it. I don’t give a shit. Give me a letter.” This response to being asked to wear a hard hat reflected defiance and disregard for workplace safety and authority.

On his own acknowledgment of the need for change: “I understand that I’ve got to change. I have called EAP, and I’m waiting for a call back to get counselling for aggression. I am willing to work with Trevor and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I need to get help.”

The arbitrator’s ruling

The grievor’s termination was ultimately upheld, with the arbitration dismissing the grievances filed by Local 1287 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The ruling pointed to the irreparable breach of the employment relationship caused by the grievor’s actions.

The arbitrator gave “serious consideration” to the idea of awarding him damages in lieu of reinstatement, largely because of the employer’s failure to take effective action sooner. But it also noted that management does not trust him and he did not respond to earlier corrective measures to curb his disrespect of management and his abuse of co-workers.

“His testimony displayed a continued disrespect for many of his coworkers and management. He is still resentful of the new hires,” the arbitrator said. “He still harbors animosity toward management and blames his coworkers for some of the allegations that were proven to include his own misconduct. Co-workers have expressed concern about him returning to work, even if he were to be assigned to a different location.”

Finally, the arbitrator noted that the toxicity he helped to foment in the workplace seems to have dissipated since he left. 

The decision to discharge the grievor was appropriate, the arbitrator said, and there “are insufficient reasons to substitute a lower penalty.”

For more information, see The Regional Municipality of Niagara v Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1287, 2024 CanLII 6040 (ON LA).

Author