Union ordered to pay employer $500,000 for defamation

Unite Here Local 40 was ordered to pay $500,000 to Civeo Corporation for defamatory statements against the company.

Civeo, which operates several work camps along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route, including one for the ongoing LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, had sought damages from the union earlier this year over statements released on the Unite 40 website.

The statement (now removed) read: “Civeo’s broken promises to First Nations people”.

He said the company paid low wages and had reduced the number of indigenous workers over the past two years.

The statement was made precisely as part of a collective agreement that Civeo and the union negotiated for workers at Sitka Lodge in Kitimat in 2018.

However, in 2021, due to inflation, the union unsuccessfully pressured Civeo to re-evaluate the deal and raise wages. This led the union to release the statement, which was found to be defamatory by arbitrator Nicolas Glass on May 16.

Civeo sought redress for these 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 relationship with local indigenous communities, but also with investors and stakeholders.

Civeo also claimed that the union made these statements in an attempt to circumvent the dispute provisions of the collective agreement.

The case was arbitrable as a grievance rather than a civil suit, since the defamation took place in the context of a labor dispute, Glass said.

Glass ordered the union to pay $400,000 in general damages and $100,000 in punitive damages on May 16, while deeming the statement a “complete fabrication.”

“I discovered that the use of the term ‘broken promises’ was deliberately chosen and emphasized by the union to associate the conduct of the employer with the unsavory history of broken promises suffered by First Nations for many decades,” Glass said.

The arbitrator said Civeo has worked hard to build trust with First Nations people, especially in the areas where it does business, and that the union has 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 it deliberately attempted to destroy or break that trust by highlighting and widely publicizing the impugned statement,” Glass said.

The arbitrator also said that the union disseminated its misrepresentation as widely as it could, including on the Internet, through mass emailings, a dedicated website displaying the offending banner, its own website regular ; its Facebook page and a separate Facebook ad.