Unite Here Local 40 has been ordered to pay Civeo Corporation $500,000 for defamatory statements against the company.
Civeo, which runs several work camps along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route, including one for the LNG Canada facility underway in Kitimat, had sought grievance damages from the union earlier this year owing to statements posted on Unite 40’s website.
The statement (now taken down) read: ‘Civeo’s broken promises to First Nations people.’
It said the company paid low wages and decreased the number of Indigenous workers over the past two years.
The statement was made specifically within the context of a collective agreement that Civeo and the union had negotiated for workers of the Sitka Lodge in Kitimat in 2018.
However, in 2021, owing to inflation, the union unsuccessfully pressured Civeo to reassess the agreement and raise wages. This resulted in the union posting the statement, which was ruled defamatory by arbitrator Nicolas Glass on May 16.
Civeo sought remediation for the statements and accused the union of destroying any trust in Civeo as an employer and business partner of First Nations people. They argued that the statements posted on the union’s website had far-reaching effects and affected not only its relations with local Indigenous communities, but also with investors and stakeholders.
Civeo also claimed the union made these statements in an attempt to circumvent the provisions of the collective agreement dealing with disputes.
The matter was arbitrable as a grievance rather than a civil claim, since the defamation took place within the context of a labour dispute, explained Glass.
Glass ordered the union to pay $400,000 in general damages and $100,000 in punitive damages on May 16, while ruling that the statement was a “complete fabrication.”
“I found that the use of the phrase ‘Broken Promises’ was deliberately chosen and highlighted by the union to associate the employer’s conduct with the unsavoury history of broken promises suffered by First Nations over many decades,” Glass stated.
The arbitrator said Civeo worked hard to establish trust with First Nations people, especially in the regions where it does business, and the union deliberately tried to destroy that trust with its statements.
“The importance and significance of that trust was well known to the union, which makes it all the more reprehensible that they deliberately attempted to destroy or break down that trust by highlighting and widely distributing the impugned statement,” Glass said.
The arbitrator also said the union distributed its false statement as far and wide as it could, including on the internet, by mass e-mailings, a dedicated website displaying the offending banner, its own regular website; its Facebook page, and a separate Facebook ad.