The union representing a longtime employee with the Town of Harbour Grace is prepared to fight council's decision to fire the worker, and says an arbitration battle could be very costly for the Conception Bay North municipality.
The ongoing labour dispute is the latest development in a series of high profile controversies that have beset the town in recent months, highlighted by the abrupt resignation of two newly hired senior management employees.
Rick Gill is a business agent with Teamsters Local 855, which represents municipal employees with the Town of Harbour Grace.
Gill confirmed today (March 11) that attempts to reach a resolution during face-to-face talks with the town's human resources committee went nowhere, and the matter is now in the hands of lawyers representing both sides. If a satisfactory agreement is still unreachable, said Gill, the union executive has voted to bring the matter to a third party arbitrator.
This third step could cost both sides up to $30,000 each, said Gill.
"This is a very expensive process for both sides, and I'll be surprised if they (go that far)," said the union official.
Gill would not discuss specifics, but said the union would not have taken these steps if it felt the dismissal of Garfield (Garf) Mahaney was justified.
"We have determined there is not a just cause for termination," said Gill. "We rely on progressive discipline, and it wasn't followed in this case."
Harbour Grace Mayor Terry Barnes, however, stands by the town's decision to fire Mahaney, saying "it was not just one thing," and "this was over six or seven weeks."
Mahaney was fired following a controversial incident at the S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace over the Christmas period. Mahaney, who has worked at the arena for many years, was on medical leave, yet agreed to open the doors to the facility for an unsanctioned event on Boxing Day.
When contacted today, Mahaney admitted he was wrong to open the arena, but disagrees that he should have been fired.
He said he wants his job back, and "a full apology from the lot of them."
When asked about his conduct as an employee, Mahaney, 56, said: "You won't get no better than me."
He initially denied being reprimanded in the past, but admitted to verbally threatening another employee about two years ago.
What's more, Mahaney said he opened the arena for the Boxing Day event for the past 25 years, and there was never an issue.
But when reminded that he was on medical leave at the time, Mahaney commented: "I know. I never should have went down there."
Sources say the day-long event involved some three dozen people playing shinny hockey. Those involved included some high profile hockey personalities from the area, along with several people who are closely related to members of the Harbour Grace town council.
The event is a Christmas tradition dating back many years, but this year's event went ahead during a period of transition in the town. A new chief administrative officer and facilities manager had recently been hired, and were getting acquainted with their new positions.
The event ignited a storm of controversy, and sources say it was a factor in the eventual resignation of both management employees. The two former employees are sisters-in-law, and neither have commented publicly since their departures. However, their letters of resignation were read into the public record during a recent public council meeting, with one of the employees referring to "threats" and saying she was put into situations where her “morals, ethics, and professional and educational knowledge were challenged …"
The town has since launched a new recruitment effort to fill the positions.
The departure of the two senior employees also touched off a dispute between Mayor Barnes and several of his colleagues. The matter climaxed during a privileged meeting, when calls were made for Barnes' resignation, with accusations that he did not follow protocol in efforts to implement a temporary solution to the staffing crisis.
Barnes refused to resign, and relations between members of council, who were elected to a four-year term in September, are said to have normalized in recent weeks.
"We lost two superb ladies, but we've got to move on," said Barnes. "I wish we had a better understanding (of things) and could have helped them better than what we did."
The town attempted to rehire the two women, but they rejected all overtures, said Barnes.
The mayor also confirmed this week that council invited a representative of Municipal Affairs to observe the proceedings of council meetings.
"We're all new. We want to make sure we doing meetings right," Barnes explained.
An observer sat in on a recent council meeting, may sit in on a second, Barnes added.
Meanwhile, when asked if the town was prepared to spend thousands of dollars to uphold the decision to fire Mahaney, Barnes was non-committal.
"I don't know where it's to right now," he said.
The union official, however, was pulling no punches.
“They can’t afford to spend this kind of money when they cannot even do their roads,” said Rick Gill. “It’s just a huge waste and we should be able to negotiate a satisfactory settlement.”
Gill even pitched a possible solution: give Mahaney back his job without paying any lost wages.
"This is a huge smack on the hands, but I think he would be satisfied with something along that line. I would strongly convince him to do that if it was offered,” said Gill.