IHLER email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-10-02 published
He fought the Teamsters -- and won
Worker won protection for part-timers in a court battle that involved the most powerful union in North America
By James McCREADY Special to The Globe and Mail Thursday, October 2, 2003 - Page R13
Gerry MASSICOTTE was a man who didn't like being pushed around, and one of his fights made him famous, at least for a while. He won a precedent-setting case involving unfair labour practices, not just against his employer but also the Teamsters, the most powerful union in North America. The legal battle lasted about three years, in what was mostly a one-man fight in a case that was heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.
He didn't take no for an answer when the union said it wouldn't handle his grievance, insisting that he deserved better because he had paid his dues.
"His fight was based on the simple principle of taxation without representation," said Ray KUSZELEWSKI, now a Halifax lawyer but back in the late 1970s another Teamster with a problem with the union. The Teamsters not only refused to represent Mr. MASSICOTTE, but it negotiated a lower wage, from $6.85 an hour to $6, in Mr. MASSICOTTE, who has died at the age of 55, was a man who could not be pigeonholed. He had a degree in social work and worked as a professional for more than 10 years before the intensity of the work forced him to leave.
Gerald Manley MASSICOTTE was born on October 22, 1947, in Toronto. His father worked at the Post Office, his mother worked in restaurants. Eventually she ended up owning her own place, The New Brazil, at Runnymede and St. Clair in Toronto. Later, Mr. MASSICOTTE and his wife, Elaine, would take it over.
Mr. MASSICOTTE went to Runnymede Collegiate and graduated with a degree in social work from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. He worked for many years as a social worker in group homes for children and in halfway houses. He then took on part-time work, including a stint at Humes Transport, loading refrigerated trucks. He did that for 2½ years, before he was fired.
That started his long crusade against the Teamsters. On Aug.16, 1979, he filed a grievance asking his union to protest his firing.
"I claim that I have been unjustly terminated and must be reinstated immediately," began his grievance letter to local 938 of the Teamsters. The answer came back that the union would not represent him, and that he had no protection as a part-time employee, in spite of paying union dues of $18 a month.
At the time, Mr. MASSICOTTE and others were unhappy with the way the Teamsters were run and he set out to prove that it did him wrong.
The case went to the Canada Labour Relations Board. The union argued that the safe, clean environment it negotiated with Humes Transport was a great benefit for a part-timer like Mr. MASSICOTTE. The union also informed him that his pay would be lowered so the company could pay full-time employees more. In late January, 1980, the Labour Relations Board ruled in favour of Mr. MASSICOTTE, ordering the union to pay costs. But the Teamsters wouldn't quit. The union took the case to the Federal Court of Appeal in October, 1980, but lost.
"The union and the employer have established the price of their labour, and in MASSICOTTE's case, reduced that price drastically without asking him," wrote the court.
The case went to the Supreme Court, and the Chief Justice, Bora LASKIN, confirmed the lower court's ruling in May, 1982.
"It was one of the few cases in which a union member took his union to court for not representing him," said Brian IHLER, the lawyer who worked with him on the case.
It set a precedent that all unions in Canada would have to represent all their dues-paying members.
By the time the Supreme Court ruling came down, Mr. MASSICOTTE had moved on with his life. A keen cook, he took courses at George Brown College. He also became well-known again, but for his food this time. He renamed his mother's restaurant, the Northland Truck Stop and Café.
Mr. MASSICOTTE later moved into his wife's father's business, selling and servicing small pumps, used soft-drink machines and even kidney dialysis machines. He and his wife ran the company, Potter-Blersh. He died of cancer on July 15.
Gerry MASSICOTTE leaves wife Elaine BLERSH; siblings Debbie, Jeff, Ron and Jim; and mother Joan.
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