Union retracts, apologizes; owner rejects restitution offered as a ‘token’
Ed Grant, owner of Valley Cabs, is not pleased that the union representing striking airport workers sent out a letter asking members to boycott Valley Cabs because they incorrectly thought he was on the airport's board of directors.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
A Mount Pearl businessman is furious his taxi company was the focus of a union boycott by mistake.
Ed Grant, owner of Valley Cabs, discovered in March that the Atlantic branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada — which represents workers on strike from the
St. John’s airport — sent a letter to its members, urging them to boycott the cab company, under the mistaken belief that Grant is a member of the airport’s board of directors.
“We are trying to exert as much pressure as possible on this employer. And we need our members’ help to do it,” reads the letter, dated March 20 and signed by Jeannie Baldwin, regional executive vice-president of the union. “Ed Grant, a member of the Airport Board of Directors, owns Valley Cabs in the city of Mount Pearl. As a show of support, we are asking that you boycott Valley Cabs and contact Ed Grant directly … to let him know that you will not be using his service until the strike at the St. John’s Airport is settled.”
The problem, said Grant, is that he “has not, is not and never will be” a member of the St. John’s Airport Authority’s board of directors.
“I find it incredible that they couldn’t have picked up the phone, called the airport authority, or call me — my number’s in the boycott letter, as they were asking people to call me and pressure me into settling,” he said. The board of directors are also listed on the airport authority’s website.
His calls to the union prompted a retraction letter — Grant calls it a “half-hearted” apology — sent out by the union three days after the original letter. “The strikers had been provided with what they thought was reliable information that led us to believe that the company’s owner Ed Grant was a new member of the
St. John’s Airport Authority Board of Directors. It has come to our attention that this is not the case,” reads the second letter, also signed by Baldwin. “I apologize for this inconvenience, and assure you that I have also apologized to Mr. Grant. Please do not boycott Valley Cabs.”
Baldwin told The Telegram Thursday one of the union’s members had provided the erroneous information, and the boycott letter was sent to about 350 union members. When the union was informed of the mistake by Grant, said Baldwin, they corrected it and apologized immediately.
“We sent a letter of apology to Mr. Grant and we immediately sent a retraction letter to our membership of our error, and it was completely stopped,” said Baldwin. Asked if the union had verified the information, Baldwin said the member who provided the information said he had done that.
“It was a grave error on our part. We apologized to Mr. Grant. I’ve been on the phone with him several times and also wrote a letter of apology to him with the mistake I had made,” said Baldwin.
After the union apologized and retracted the boycott, said Baldwin, Grant then approached the union for monetary damages.
“We agreed to provide Mr. Grant with a $6,000 financial settlement which he could give to the charity of his choice. Mr. Grant refused — he actually wanted the money for himself, personally, I think, or for his company,” said Baldwin. She said they offered Grant $3,000, but if he wanted anything more than that, he would have to provide proof of his losses over the three days the union was calling for a boycott.
The case is now in small-claims court, due back before a judge in October.
“The judge made it very clear, though, that the claimant has to prove damages, which Mr. Grant has not done himself,” said Baldwin.
Grant called the restitution offered by the union a “token” and said it’s impossible for him to prove how much business he might have lost because of the boycott, and when the strike is settled — since the boycott was to last for the length of the strike — he’ll be attempting to determine how much damage was done.
“It’s hard to prove a negative. We had a number of people who called us before the retraction came out and said, ‘We’re not using you.’ They have to believe the boycotts are effective, or they wouldn’t bother doing them. The retraction obviously got back to some people, but the effect is, sometimes they don’t read the retraction letters. They mention (the boycott) to family and friends and don’t bother mentioning the retraction.”
Baldwin also said Valley Cabs was the only target of a boycott letter sent by the union.
“I think there’s a couple things that we’ve tried to do. We’ve been working with some of those businesses, like we’ve been holding information picket lines in front of their businesses. Hopefully that’s bringing our issues to the forefront of what exactly’s going on with the St. John’s airport.”
About 85 members of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees Local 90916 — members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada who handle runway clearing; building and equipment upkeep; fire, security and emergency services; and administrative and billing services — have been on strike since Sept. 11, 2012. The union has been without a pay raise since 2008 and without a collective bargaining agreement since 2009. The most recent round of negotiations broke off earlier this month.