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June 19, 2020, 7:00 am

Abitrator Upholds Five of Six Port Coquitlam Terminations

City of Port Coquitlam
PORT COQUITLAM - An arbitrator has upheld the City of Port Coquitlam’s position to dismiss five of six employees terminated in 2018 for being involved in selling new and used copper.

Arbitrator Ken Saunders released his ruling Wednesday on CUPE Local 498’s grievance about the terminations, related to a long-standing practice where public works division employees were collecting, concealing and cashing in new and used copper piping from city projects. Seven employees were terminated following a City investigation. One was later charged by the RCMP with theft under $5,000, and pled guilty.

Ruling on the grievances of the remaining six terminations, Saunders upheld the City’s decision to dismiss five of the employees, while ruling that one employee be reinstated. For one of the five, Saunders upheld the termination while awarding damages for a violation of personal privacy.    

“This has been an extremely difficult situation for everyone involved and particularly for our organization,” said Chief Administrative Officer Kristen Dixon. “The City is eager to turn the page and move forward – working together with our employees and CUPE Local 498 to best serve the citizens of Port Coquitlam.”

Dixon added: “I would like to emphasize that we do not believe these actions reflect the overall character and commitment of the City’s staff who work hard every day to serve and earn the trust of our community.”

The City and Union will work together on the next steps regarding the arbitrator’s ruling.

The City has taken a number of steps to prevent this situation from reoccurring since 2018. These have included reviewing how City property is purchased, used and disposed of, adding an extra level of field oversight, reinforcing the city’s existing policies for conflict of interest and use of equipment with all staff, and providing ethics training for all employees.

“We have learned from this experience and are using it to strengthen our organization as a whole,” Dixon said. “We understand that this situation may have been unsettling for our community but want to assure you that we take our duty to manage taxpayers dollars seriously and will continue to work hard to earn your trust.”

Background

In February 2018, the City became aware of a long-standing practice where public works division employees were collecting, concealing and cashing in new and used copper piping from city projects.
After a subsequent investigation and careful consideration of all available evidence, the City made the difficult decision to terminate seven employees in early July 2018.

Following its investigation, the City provided information about the matter to the Coquitlam RCMP, which investigated and put forward a charge to the Crown of theft under $5,000 against one of the seven employees, Harold Lewis. Lewis subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge and through sentencing, agreed to repay a portion of his copper recycling proceeds to the city and write a letter of apology.

CUPE Local 498, which represents the seven employees, grieved the terminations, though later withdrew the grievance related to Mr. Lewis’ termination. The case went to arbitration in respect of the remaining six employees, with the ruling described above. 


MEDIA CONTACTS

Pardeep Purewal
Manager of Communications & Admin Services
City of Port Coquitlam
Tel 604.927.5335 Cel 604.218.0533
Email purewalp@portcoquitlam.ca


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