Toronto Star - Stop public funding of union centre, Tory labour critic urges

Published on January 17th, 2012 in the Toronto Star

Hillier said Tuesday that Premier Dalton McGuinty should not resume funding to the Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 183 training fund until its board of union and management trustees “cleans up” operations and become more accountable.

“There shouldn’t be any funding from any ministries to an organization like this that has shown such a cavalier attitude and disrespect to its members and the public,” Hillier said in an interview. “The government should be loath to continue funding a centre where there is a clear lack of accountability and money is being spent inappropriately.”

Ontario ministries provide the centre with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for apprenticeship and training programs. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) , which operates under the government but only gets employer funding, also supports the centre financially.

Hillier’s remarks follow revelations in the Star this week that the board unanimously fired training centre administrator John Mandarino with cause in 2010 after an internal review and legal opinion but then rehired him last year.

The probe found he broke contract tendering rules, regularly breached a cheque-writing policy, charged unauthorized personal expenses without proper accounting and even lost opportunities for government grants.

In one incident, receipts showed he flew his young daughter to Disney World with workers’ money at the same time as an industry convention in Florida. He paid back the cost of the trip and other personal expenses about 21 months later, after becoming aware of the internal review

The legal opinion from a prominent lawyer concluded Mandarino demonstrated a “repeated pattern of obfuscation, deception, blame-shifting and self dealing” that raised questions as to whether trustees could trust him in the job that had paid more than $200,000 in salary and benefits annually.

Hillier, who represents the riding of Lanark Frontenac Lennox Addington, said since unions have significant legal rights for collection of dues from members, there should be an expectation of accountability.

“It’s absent here,” he said about the decision to rehire Mandarino.

Hillier added he believes that Local 183, which represents 28,000 workers, is riddled with internal politics that has left management trustees who represent contractors under pressure to conform with political goals or else feel a negative impact on construction sites.

“If they don’t play, they could be in situations where they need 50 workers but only get five on a given day,” he said. “That sort of scenario has to change.”

A spokesman for Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey said that in the case of the WSIB, the government is quite confident that the agency makes sure organizations receiving funding are accountable.

Meanwhile, the training centre board has not responded to the Star’s revelations and subsequent questions despite continuing requests. Jack Oliveira, Local 183’s business manager and a centre trustee, had said recently that Mandarino’s firing was politically motivated and the board offered him his job back because of his skill and hard work.