A bag of cash and a bottle of cologne: Inside the undoing of Unifor’s Jerry Dias

Jerry Dias, at the time the Unifor national president, attends a press conference in Toronto on Oct. 15, 2020.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Jerry Dias, the now-fallen leader of the country’s largest labor union, called his assistant, Chris MacDonald, into his office at Unifor’s Toronto headquarters on Jan. 20.

On Mr. Dias’s desk, according to a source familiar with the contents of an investigator’s report on the incident, were three bottles of men’s cologne and a bag containing $25,000 in cash. Two of the bottles were personalized with the initials of two of Mr. Dias’s closest colleagues, Mr. MacDonald and Scott Doherty. Mr. Dias told Mr. MacDonald that one of the bottles was for him.

Then, the source said, Mr. Dias gave Mr. MacDonald the bag of cash, telling him it was also his to keep. Mr. MacDonald tried to resist the offer, telling Mr. Dias he could not take the money. Mr. Dias responded that he certainly could.

The report, which Unifor commissioned as part of a probe of an alleged breach by Mr. Dias of the union’s code of ethics, was shown to about two dozen senior union staff and members in a meeting on March 21. The source, who was present at the meeting and read the full report, shared details with The Globe and Mail. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal union affairs.

The source said that, prior to the meeting, union leaders told those who would be in attendance that they were not allowed to bring in any recording devices, including cellphones. Some at the meeting took handwritten notes.

Mr. Dias went on medical leave from Unifor on Feb. 6. On March 11, he announced his immediate retirement from the union’s presidency, citing health issues.

Unifor announced on March 14 that it had received a complaint about Mr. Dias on Jan. 26 and immediately commenced an independent investigation. In a statement, it said it had given the investigator “full power to conduct a thorough inquiry.” The union later said the complaint had come from Mr. MacDonald – six days after Mr. Dias’s alleged offer of cash and cologne.

On Wednesday, the union announced that Mr. Dias had violated its constitution by allegedly accepting a $50,000 payment in exchange for promoting a supplier of COVID-19 test kits to employers of Unifor members. Several employers, according to the union, bought those test kits.

In a statement to The Globe, Unifor said that it would not be releasing additional information about the report in advance of a hearing on the alleged breach. That hearing could take place as early as April, the union said.

Mr. Dias is arguably the most prominent labor leader in Canada, and has been a long-time advocate for workers’ rights, particularly those of auto workers. Known as a tough-talker, he played a critical role in getting General Motors to reverse its decision on shuttering a production plant in Oshawa, Ont., and was tapped by Ontario Premier Doug Ford last year to head a trade-related task force.

Mr. Dias, Mr. MacDonald did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Mr. Doherty declined to comment. On Wednesday, Mr. Dias issued a public statement saying that he had entered a rehabilitation center for substance-abuse issues – including excessive use of alcohol and painkillers to deal with a sciatic nerve problem – that he said had, in recent months, impaired his idea.

The union’s allegations against Mr. Dias are based on information contained in the report, which is roughly 30 pages long and was prepared by a third-party labor and employment law firm, according to the source who attended the meeting.

According to the source, the report alleged that Mr. MacDonald eventually accepted the bag of cash from Mr. Dias because he was afraid of job-related repercussions for not obeying his boss. Mr. Dias and Mr. MacDonald had lunch together that same day, the source said. Later in the day, Mr. MacDonald contacted the union’s regional director for Ontario, Noreen Rizvi, to tell her about the interaction with Mr. Dias.

The source said the report recounted that, in the following days, Mr. Doherty called and visited Mr. MacDonald multiple times about the interaction with Mr. Dias.

Mr. Doherty was in line for Mr. Dias’s job. Before unexpectedly announcing his retirement in March, Mr. Dias had said he would retire in August, ahead of Unifor’s constitutional convention in Toronto, where the union planned to elect a new leader. Mr. Doherty, who had served as Mr. Dias’s assistant since 2015, was planning to run for the position. Union executives endorsed his candidacy in February.

The source said Lana Payne, Unifor’s national secretary-treasurer, asked that the external investigator speak to four Unifor employees: Ms. Rizvi, Mr. Doherty, Mr. Dias and Mr. MacDonald.

Ms. Rizvi, Mr. Doherty and Mr. MacDonald all participated in the investigation. Mr. Dias, according to the union, was asked to participate in the investigation but did not. Mr. Dias said in his most recent public statement that he was advised by a doctor not to participate because of the state of his health.

The source said that the report blacked out the name of the COVID-19 test kit supplier. When some in attendance at the meeting asked for the name of the supplier, they were told that there would be legal complications if the supplier’s identity became public.

The report also contained an anecdote about Mr. Dias asking Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Doherty if they were interested in buying his boat, according to the source, to which Mr. MacDonald responded by saying that he was not interested.

Property records show that Mr. Dias currently owns three properties – two in Ontario and one in Florida. He purchased a house in Milton, Ont. – a suburb of Toronto – in Feb., 2018, for $1.13-million. He also owns a condominium unit in downtown Toronto, near Lake Ontario, which he purchased on Sept. 1, 2021, for $1.2-million. The property record for the condo shows that no mortgage was taken out for the purchase, but a lawyer for Mr. Dias, Tom Curry, said it was supported by a line of credit and that Mr. Dias receives rental income from the unit.

The property records show that Mr. Doherty and Mr. Dias own condos in the same retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla.

Mr. Dias, now 64 years old, was elected to his first of three successive terms as national president of Unifor in 2013. The union represents 315,000 workers across multiple sectors, including many employees at The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

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