The powerful steelworkers’ union, which is affiliated with the FTQ, had been betrayed by at least four of its leaders, who paid for personal expenses in particular with workers’ money, our investigative office discovered.
Three local residents of Quebec’s largest private sector union (60,000 members) have been going through a real embezzlement crisis for months. In fact, in the course of our investigation we found that one of the union officials who had been pinned down and unable to return the payment had his home in Beauce confiscated last Thursday.
Personal expenses paid by the syndicate, double-claimed bills, blank signed checks, missing receipts… The list of discoveries unveiled in the recent judgments sends chills down the spine.
“Participating in union action and managing the finances of one’s union requires to serve and not to reach outsummarizes Judge Christian Brunelle of the Quebec Court in one of those March decisions.
These cases are reminiscent of that of former Director General of FTQ-Construction (Federation of Workers of Quebec) Jocelyn Dupuis, whose excessive expense allowances were exposed in broad daylight about a decade ago.
Photo by Facebook, Manac
About 650 workers at the Manac trailer plant in Saint-Georges, Beauce, are unionized with Steelworkers at Branch 9471.
Steelworkers Local 9599, which brings together staff from several organizations including the Société des traversiers du Québec, was in “total confusion” and “a non-existent bookkeeping.”
The judge quoted the auditor Roch Drapeau, who was hired by the Steelworkers’ parent company in Pittsburgh to conduct the audits.
This negligence allowed Treasury Secretary Yann Gauthier to withdraw more than $46,000 from the union fund by 2017.
“It had to stop pretty quickly,” says Mr. Drapeau.
The reckoning also revealed that former 9599 president Claude Leblond “also increased travel expenses to his advantage, which he admitted by post-reimbursing the local section.”
Unlike his friend Yann Gauthier, President Leblond has not been charged. Both were fired full-time to attend to the union.
Photo from Facebook, steel workers
Quebec director of Steelworkers, Dominic Lemieux.
The situation was little better at Local 9471, which represents the 650 workers at the Manac trailer factory in Saint-Georges, Beauce.
His former finance secretary, Roch Lessard, was ordered by Superior Court Judge France Bergeron in December to repay nearly $110,000 plus costs and interest.
“At the hearing […], Lessard admits to having appropriated certain sums for $71,263.33. He even apologizes for his behavior,” the judge noted.
These three new cases come in addition to that of Patrick Pellerin, ex-President of Local 8922 Security, who was fired from his post in December and is the target of a criminal investigation into fraud.
In an interview with our Bureau of Investigation, Steelworkers’ Québec director Dominic Lemieux pledged to do everything possible to recover the stolen funds.
– With Philippe Langlois
Rio Tinto Alcan steel workers demonstrated in Quebec in 2012.
The director of the Steelworkers of Quebec is determined to prosecute those illegally entering the union fund.
“It’s theft. We cannot tolerate that and we will never tolerate that,” says Dominic Lemieux in an interview.
At the end of the line, Mr. Lemieux does not hide his dissatisfaction. He would rather talk about the good reasons behind his organization than the people who have been fired for embezzlement.
But according to him, prosecutors will deter those who might be tempted to commit illegal acts.
“The Steelworkers Union has zero tolerance. There is no out-of-court settlement between us and the people we catch cheating.
His organization also recently won a case against former union officials Yann Gauthier and Roch Lessard, who were each fined tens of thousands of dollars.
As for former Local 9599 president Claude Leblond, he has not been prosecuted, but his case is different, according to Mr Lemieux.
“Refunded him 100% of what he took. He said, ‘Yes, that’s right,’ and he paid.”
Aside from civil lawsuits, those who stole funds from workers also face criminal investigations.
“There were discussions with the various police forces. But as you know, we don’t decide whether charges will be filed [criminelles] worn out,” says Mr Lemieux.
Although cases of illegal use of funds have been reported involving four people in three localities, the Steelworkers director does not believe his organization is in a crisis.
“That’s four cases out of 60,000 members, we don’t find that worrying. But it is clear that I would much rather not have one [de cas]’ he concedes.
(650 workers at the Manac plant in Saint-Georges in Beauce)
Roch Lessard, Finance Secretary
Photo from the FTQ website
- Ordered to repay $109,461.64 plus interest on December 3, 2021.
- The “illegal appropriation” of funds lasted from 2003 to 2016. In particular, Lessard “transacted with a local union credit card for a purely personal or unjustified purpose,” according to the auditor.
- He reimbursed the bills for three mobile phones.
- He used blank checks for his expenses.
(16,000 security guards including traffic lights, firefighters and security guards)
Patrick Pellerin, President
Photo from an information brochure of 8922
- Removed from office on December 15, 2021 and subjected to a search by the Sûreté du Québec.
- The criminal investigation concerns possible fraud on the union’s bank accounts.
- This restaurant has since been put under trusteeship.
(Employees of several organizations including the Société des traversiers du Québec)
Yann Gauthier, Financial Secretary
Screenshot from Google Maps
Yann Gauthier’s house seized by a bailiff on June 9th.
- Ordered on March 31 to repay $46,043.95 plus interest.
- His home at Saint-Côme-Linière in Beauce was confiscated on June 9th.
- From 2011 to 2018, he was reimbursed, without entitlement, for commuting expenses for personal travel, meal expenses of US$30 per day, and cell phone expenses. Some expenses were also claimed twice.
- “The distances covered were reinforced compared to reality,” it says in a judgment.
- The judge says he betrayed “the trust of his colleagues” and weakened the union’s finances.
Claude Leblond, President
- He also “increased travel expenses to his advantage, which he acknowledged by subsequently reimbursement to local residents,” according to a judgment.
- His union has not prosecuted him for admitting his wrongdoing.
At the Manac factory union in Beauce, union officials signed blank checks for Treasury Secretary Roch Lessard to spend as he pleased.
These checks required three signatures, including Mr. Lessard’s.
“The checks are signed in advance by two officers. All Lessard has to do is enter the desired amount and sign it, without anyone having to check the receipt, its existence and its correspondence with the amount of the check when the check is issued,” explains Judge France Bergeron in her decision.
The judge calls Lessard, who had to pay back more than $110,000, “champion aboard the local finance boat. He’s in control, both horizontally and vertically.”
Have union officials been properly trained to audit their community’s finances? Judge Bergeron doubts that.
The welder François Loubier also told the court that he was trained by Roch Lessard to become a trustee “at the corner of the desk”.
Lessard himself had learned on the job. Holder of secondary school diploma 5, has been working since he was 19 years old.
“The court cannot charge the trustees with improper conduct of their audit work. They are simple laborers who carry out this work without any special training at the time, except that given by Lessard. In addition, the trustees have benefited from a completely different training since the Lessard event,” emphasizes the judge.
In an interview with our Bureau of Investigation, Steelworkers’ Québec director Dominic Lemieux explains that his organization recently “upgraded” the training of trustees and treasurers.
Union members owe a debt of gratitude to accountant Roch Drapeau, who was hired by United Steelworkers’ parent company in the United States to investigate the irregularities.
“The magnitude of the task accomplished [par M. Drapeau] represents a real Benedictine work, the austerity of which must be emphasized,” emphasizes Judge Christian Brunelle.
He goes on to write that Mr. Drapeau “patiently and meticulously created a spreadsheet using Excel software” after trawling through a mountain of forms, expense reports and cashed checks.