The powerful FTQ-affiliated Steelworkers union was allegedly scammed by at least four of its leaders, who notably paid personal expenses with workers’ money, our Bureau of Investigation found.
Three branches of the largest private sector union in Quebec (60,000 members) have been going through a real embezzlement crisis for months. In the course of the investigation, we even discovered that one of the immobilized union leaders, unable to pay, had his home in Beauce seized last Thursday.
Personal expenses paid by the union, invoices claimed in duplicate, blank signed checks, absence of supporting documents… The list of findings, disseminated in recent sentences, gives chills.
“Getting involved in union action and managing the finances of the association itself requires serve and not to servesummarized by Judge Christian Brunelle, of the Quebec Court, in one of these decisions dated March.
These cases are reminiscent of that of former FTQ-Construction (Quebec Workers’ Federation) CEO Jocelyn Dupuis, whose exaggerated spending allocations had been exposed in broad daylight some ten years ago.
Photo taken from Facebook, Manac
Some 650 workers at Manac’s trailer plant in Saint-Georges, Beauce, are unionized with Steelworkers, local 9471.
In the local 9599 section of the Steelworkers, which brings together employees from various organizations, including the Société des traversiers du Québec, there was “total disorder” and “non-existent accounting”.
This is how the judge cites the auditor Roch Drapeau, in charge of carrying out the audits by the parent company of the Steelworkers in Pittsburgh.
This oversight allowed financial secretary Yann Gauthier to withdraw more than $46,000 from the union fund through 2017..
“It had to stop pretty quickly,” according to Drapeau.
The accounting exercise also revealed that former 9599 president Claude Leblond “also amplified travel expenses in his favor, which he admitted by later reimbursing the local chapter.”
Unlike his friend Yann Gauthier, President Leblond was not prosecuted. Both were released full time to take care of the syndicate.
Photo from Facebook, Steelworkers
The Quebec director of the Steelworkers, Dominic Lemieux.
Things weren’t much better at local 9471, which represents the 650 workers at the Manac trailer factory in Saint-Georges, Beauce.
Superior Court Judge France Bergeron ordered his former finance secretary, Roch Lessard, to pay almost $110,000, plus costs and interest, in December.
“In the audience […], Lessard admits to having appropriated certain sums, for $71,263.33. He even apologizes for his behavior, ”said the magistrate.
These three new cases add to that of Patrick Pellerin, former president of Local 8922 security guards, fired in December and the subject of a criminal investigation for fraud.
In an interview with our Bureau of Investigation, the director of the Quebec Steelworkers, Dominic Lemieux, promised to do everything possible to recover the stolen sums.
– With Philippe Langlois
Listen to Richard Martineau’s interview with Jean-Louis Fortin, Director of the Quebecor Research Office, on QUB radio:
The Rio Tinto Alcan Steelworkers had demonstrated in 2012 in Quebec.
The director of the Quebec Steelworkers is determined to prosecute those who illegally dip into the union fund.
“It’s theft. We can’t tolerate that, and we will never tolerate it,” says Dominic Lemieux in an interview.
At the end of the row, Mr. Lemieux does not hide his discontent. He would rather be talked about organizing him for the good reasons than for people fired for embezzlement.
But according to him, the indictment will deter those who would be tempted to commit illegal acts.
“In the Steelworkers union, it’s zero tolerance. There is no extrajudicial agreement between us and the people we catch scamming.
His organization also recently won a case against former union officials Yann Gauthier and Roch Lessard, each of whom was ordered to repay tens of thousands of dollars.
As for former Local 9599 President Claude Leblond, he was not prosecuted, but his case is different according to Mr. Lemieux.
“I reimbursed him 100% of what he had taken. He said, ‘yes, that’s true,’ and he paid.”
Beyond civil lawsuits, those who have stolen funds from workers are also exposed to criminal investigations.
“There have been talks with the various police forces. But as you know, it is not we who decide whether the charges [criminelles] they are worn out,” says Mr. Lemieux.
Although cases of illegal use of funds have been reported involving four people in three locations, the director of the Steelworkers does not believe that his organization is in crisis.
“There are four cases of 60,000 members, it does not seem alarming to us. But it’s clear I’d rather not have one [de cas]”, recognize.
(650 workers at the Manac plant, in Saint-Georges, in Beauce)
Roch Lessard, financial secretary
Photo taken from the FTQ website
- Sentenced on December 3, 2021 to pay $109,461.64 plus interest.
- The “illegal appropriation” of funds lasted from 2003 to 2016. Lessard in particular “transacted with a local union credit card, for a strictly personal or unjustified purpose,” according to the auditor.
- I was reimbursing the bills for three mobile phones.
- He used blank checks for his expenses.
(16,000 security workers, including traffic lights, firefighters, and security guards)
Patrick Pellerin, President
Photo taken from an information brochure of 8922
- Removed from office and subject to a search by the Sûreté du Québec on December 15, 2021.
- The criminal investigation concerns possible fraud in the union’s bank accounts.
- Since then, this location has been placed under guardianship.
(Employees of various organizations, including the Société des traversiers du Québec)
Yann Gauthier, financial secretary
Screenshot of Google Maps
Yann Gauthier’s house, seized by a bailiff on June 9.
- Sentenced March 31 to pay $46,043.95 plus interest.
- His house in Saint-Côme-Linière, in Beauce, was seized on June 9.
- From 2011 to 2018, he was reimbursed for personal travel mileage, $30 per day food expenses, and cell phone expenses, without being entitled to them. Some expenses were also claimed twice.
- “The distances traveled were extended with respect to reality”, also indicates a sentence.
- The judge considers that he abused “the trust of his colleagues” and weakened the union’s finances.
Claude Leblond, President
- He “also increased travel expenses in his favor, which he admitted by later reimbursing the venue,” according to a ruling.
- His union did not prosecute him as he admitted his misconduct.
At the Manac factory workers’ union in Beauce, union officials signed blank checks to allow the financial secretary, Roch Lessard, to spend as he pleased.
These checks required three signatures, including that of Mr. Lessard.
“The checks are signed in advance by two officers. Lessard only has to put the amount he wants and sign, without anyone, when the check is issued, having to check the receipt, its existence and if it corresponds to the amount of the check, ”explains Judge France Bergeron in her decision.
The magistrate calls Lessard, who had to pay more than $110,000, “master aboard the local finance ship.” He has control, both horizontally and vertically.”
Have union leaders been adequately trained to audit the finances of their local? Judge Bergeron doubts it.
The welder François Loubier has also indicated to the Court that he was trained as trustee by Roch Lessard, “on the corner of a desk”.
Lessard himself had learned on the job. Holder of a 5th grade high school diploma, he has been working since he was 19 years old.
“The Court cannot blame the trustees for not having done their audit work properly. They are simple workers who carry out this work, without any particular training, at the time, except that given by Lessard. In addition, since the Lessard event, the trustees have benefited from a completely different training, “emphasizes the judge.
In an interview with our Bureau of Investigation, Quebec Steelworkers director Dominic Lemieux explains that his organization has recently “reinforced” the training provided to trustees and treasurers.
Union members owe a debt of gratitude to auditor Roch Drapeau, commissioned by United Steelworkers’ parent company in the United States to shed light on wrongdoing.
“The magnitude of the task accomplished [par M. Drapeau] it constitutes a true Benedictine work whose rigor must be underlined”, underlines Judge Christian Brunelle.
He goes on to write that Mr. Drapeau “patiently and meticulously constructed a table using Excel software,” having searched through a mountain of forms, expense reports, and canceled checks.
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