OPSEU, one of the largest unions in the province, is suing three former leaders, including President Warren “Smokey” Thomas, for millions of dollars, alleging they withdrew $670,000 in cash from a strike fund without explanation, received “compensation significant” in addition to their wages and transferred union-bought vehicles to them and their families.
The allegations against Thomas, former vice president/treasurer Eduardo Almeida and Maurice Gabay, a former manager of the union’s financial services division, are detailed in a claim brief filed in Ontario Superior Court Monday morning and following an audit. union-ordered coroner. .
The accusations have not been proven in court. No defense brief has been filed.
“I know this is troubling news, but I pledge to you that we will work tirelessly to rebuild trust,” current OPSEU President JP Hornick wrote in an email to members obtained by Star.
The lawsuit statement “is just a first step,” Hornick added. “…We will not waive our commitment to seek justice in this matter, and we have the full support of the board in pursuing all available legal avenues…I want to assure you that despite today’s news, our union remains strong and our stable finances. ”
Almeida and Gabay were not immediately available for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Thomas’ Kingston-area home Monday night said: “Sorry, he’s not interested in talking to you” after a reporter identified himself as the caller to follow up. to a previous voice message.
All three were served with the statement of claim on Monday, before OPSEU’s email to members.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is seeking “recovery of funds and assets illegally transferred from OPSEU” in the amount of $1.75 million from Thomas, $3 million from Almeida and $1 million from Gabay, as well as damages of $6 million for “breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, conspiracy, conversion, and/or unjust enrichment (less amounts recovered),” the claim statement reads.
In addition, the union is also seeking “aggravated and/or punitive damages in the amount of $500,000 each against Thomas, Almeida, and Gabay,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit statement says the money, in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $70,000 from 2014 to 2020, was withdrawn for the union strike fund and was allegedly used for “undocumented and illegitimate purposes.”
Thomas, who worked as a registered practical nurse, was president of the 180,000-member union for 15 years, retiring last year.
Almeida, a corrections officer, was vice president and treasurer from 2011 until he was defeated in OPSEU elections last April, but was a member of the union’s board of directors until July.
Gabay, a former tax auditor for the Ontario government, worked for OPSEU beginning in 2008 and was fired from his position as manager of the financial services division last April, the lawsuit states.
“The union executive board and its members generally trusted and relied on Thomas and Almeida to protect the union, including ensuring that members’ hard-earned union dues were used in the best interest of the union and its members,” the statement of claim. He says. “The defendants have breached their duties with the OPSEU. They abused the power and authority vested in them by union membership and violated the trust union members placed in them year after year, election after election.”
This is the second series of explosive claims to rock the Canadian labor movement, following allegations that former Unifor president Jerry Dias was embroiled in a bribery scandal and then tried to obstruct an investigation into his conduct. A third-party workplace investigation alleged that Dias, who retired last year, received $50,000 from a rapid-test provider he promoted to employers. Unifor referred the matter to the police.
Unifor represents workers in almost 30 sectors, including the media. Unionized Toronto Star employees are represented by Unifor.
According to OPSEU’s claim brief, its executive board ordered a forensic audit in December 2021, but “on or about February 2022, without the knowledge of the executive board at the time and in breach of their duties to the union, some or all of the defendants took steps to try to delay the forensic audit until after the next election scheduled for April 2022, including obtaining advice on how to stop or delay the request for proposals process.”
The forensic audit uncovered the financial irregularities and is ongoing, the claim statement says.
The claim statement says that when Thomas retired, his severance pay was $61,903 and that the union made no such payment to Almeida. Gabay has received $118,456 in “post-termination payments” from the union, which it now seeks to recover “in light of the misconduct that has been discovered to date,” the claim statement says.
The claim brief also alleges that “during their tenures,” Thomas, who earned $142,740, and Almeida, who earned $131,322, “caused the union to pay them significant non-salary and cash payments to which they were not entitled.” including nearly $399,472 for Thomas and $281,275 for Almeida for “days off” and $88,875 and $79,681 respectively for “comp days” for overtime “to which (as elected officials) they were not entitled” plus “signing bonuses” not authorized.
“These compensation payments were not known to or authorized by the executive board at the time,” the lawsuit statement says, adding that “Gabay, who was accused of overseeing payroll and compensation, breached his employment duties with OPSEU/SEFPO by conspiring. or in collusion with Thomas and Almeida, and/or allowing these unauthorized payments to be made to them.”
The claim brief also says the three “incurred significant expenses” on union credit cards that the union paid, without receipts or documentation, with Almeida’s charges alone totaling $1,361,716.
The lawsuit statement says the union paid for home repairs and moving expenses in 2020-21 for a non-union member with whom Gabay had a personal relationship.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges, “since the defendants’ departure, OPSEU/SEFPO has discovered that Thomas, Almeida, and/or Gabay caused the union to transfer ownership of vehicles previously registered to OPSEU/SEFPO to them, their family members, or their relatives.” known, without consideration and for no legitimate purpose” over the years.
They include four vehicles transferred to Thomas’ wife, Valerie, and two to his son Danny, the claim statement says.
The union also transferred ownership of two vehicles to Almeida, and another vehicle was transferred to a non-union member with whom Gabay had a personal relationship, the lawsuit says.
There were also numerous withdrawals in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $70,000 between 2014 and 2020 from the union’s strike fund, which can only be used for strike pay and labor action-related expenses, or a loan approved by the board for other striking unions, the complaint statement said, adding that any transaction requires the signature of the president and first vice president/treasurer.
“These cash withdrawals were not known to or authorized by the executive committee or executive board at the time. No supporting documentation was provided to support the withdrawals or to explain their purpose,” the claim statement says.
“OPSEU/SEFPO is not aware of any legitimate strike or lockout-related purpose behind the withdrawal of such significant sums of cash, and in fact there were none. In some of the years that the withdrawals occurred, there was not even a strike or lockout,” the claim says.
The complaint also details allegations of unauthorized payments to the three and others “purportedly to resolve complaints made by those employees, for inappropriate, unreasonable, and excessive amounts.” The payments included one filed by Thomas alleging “discrimination and harassment against certain members of the OPSEU/SEFPO board of directors and claiming damages for injuries to their feelings, dignity and self-esteem” for a lump sum payment from OPSEU/SEFPO to Thomas of $500,000 and the transfer of an OPSEU/SEFPO vehicle to Thomas, the claim statement says.
The claim brief also states “a settlement between OPSEU/SEFPO and Almeida in March 2022, purportedly to resolve an unspecified claim by Almeida for ‘defamation, intentional interference with economic relations, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and civil conspiracy’ for a package- payment of the sum of $500,000 and the transfer of an OPSEU/SEFPO vehicle to Almeida”.
“Defendants’ conduct was egregious, arbitrary, and deserving of this court’s sanction,” the claim statement reads. “OPSEU/SEFPO is entitled to aggravated and/or punitive compensation as a consequence of its deliberate and illegal conduct.”
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