Remedial Media: Ottawa Petfinder Fishwrap Truckin’ Blues

A stirring tale of triumph for the little folk in the Ottawa Citizen, that crusading organ of the workin’ stiff, as the flatlining daily’s Andrew Seymour updated readers on Esther Brake, victorious once again in the Ontario Court of Appeal against her former employer, McDonald’s Canada.

The 67-year-old grandmother and former manager scored $104,499.33, plus interest and costs, from McDick’s for wrongful dismissal after 25 years slaving in the McNugget mines, plus another $120,000 from the company that ran the outlet where she got sacked.

Thus spake Esther: “The first thing I would tell anybody is, if they feel they are being treated unfairly — it’s a tough battle, I’m not saying it’s an easy battle — I tell them, ‘Go for it. Don’t hold back. Go for it.’ If you tell the truth, you could win.”

Inspiring words, and hopefully of some comfort to Peter Smith, who earlier this month filed his own David v. Goliath suit against his longtime former employer, the, er, Ottawa Citizen!

Starting in 1998, the 65-year-old Renfrew native delivered the Petfinder from Baxter Road to drop-offs in the literate pockets of Cheryl Gallant country between Ottawa and Pembroke, hauling the ever-declining pifflesheet through the Ottawa Valley in the truck he bought specifically for the job.

Last November, he got 60 days’ notice of termination and, he claims, a cordial invitation to bid anew on his contract, in a distinctly hinky process:

“The Distribution Manager disclosed confidential information about a competitive bidder and promised that if Smith’s bid came within $5,000 of the other bid, he would be awarded the route.

“Smith refused to participate in the rigged bid.

“The Distribution Manager then disclosed Smith’s bid to the other competitor without Smith’s knowledge or consent, to the detriment of Smith.

“Smith was not awarded the contract.”

Smith, represented by employment legalist Daniel Tucker-Simons (Avant Law LLP) is after $140,000 for wrongful dismissal and another $95,000 for breach of confidence in the alleged bidding shenanigans.

Much rending and gnashing has ensued with every successive newsroom bloodbath at Baxter Road, the names of the disappeared hacks writ large in many a Frank passim, but Toastmedia’s death spiral consumes all in its sputtering wake — and who mourns the paperboys?

Smith’s 18 years in harness, delivering ever-fewer, ever-thinner, ever-shittier copies of the Petfinder, spanned the spendy, damn-the-auditors age of Tubby Black, the soap-shilling bathos of Izzy Grasper and Sons, and finally the Paul Godfrey end times.

With every round of cost-cutting at the dismal daily, front-line sluggos like Smith took it in the shorts.

His statement of claim revisits a failed unionization drive by the Citizen‘s truck drivers in 2007, after which the Graspers had them all sign new contracts “which explicitly deemed the truck drivers to be ‘independent contractors,’ thereby excluding them by labour unions under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.”

As a bonus, Smith says, he also absorbed a $10,000 pay cut.

In 2013, the Petfinder once again robbed Peter, this time to pay Paul Godfrey, with a new one-year contract that further reduced his pay and provided for termination with 60 days’ notice. After that contract expired, he worked without one.

In 2014, the Petfinder added two more papers to his route, which lengthened his drive, cranked up his workload and bumped his pay to $149,000 per annum — until his 2016 frogmarching.

None of his allegations have been tested in court and blahdeblah, but Smith argues he was in effect a “dependent contractor,” with the Petfinder issuing the directives to jump and Smith asking how high, e.g.:

* “Smith could not set or control his own schedule. He was required to arrive at the Citizen at a specific time, which was set by the Citizen. If the Citizen’s press was malfunctioning, or if it was delayed by a newsworthy event, Smith was required to wait without additional compensation. On some occasions, Smith was required to wait as long as four and a half hours before departure.”

* “At the outset of Smith’s contract in 1998, the newspaper bundles he received were prepared for him by the Citizen. Citizen employees were responsible for appending carriers’ pay slips, statements and manifests to the newspaper bundles. Later, the Citizen delegated those tasks, unilaterally and without additional compensation, to Smith. Smith believed he could not refuse the additional responsibilities, or he would lose his job.”

* “The Citizen also regularly and frequently required Smith to deliver items from Renfrew, where he lived, to the Citizen’s headquarters in Ottawa. Without notice or additional compensation, the items were dropped off directly at Smith’s residence by the Area Supervisor at the time, or passed to him directly by the Citizen’s carriers. Smith delivered boxes of unmarked materials, letters, excess supplies, letters from carriers, and even large yellow, metal newspaper boxes to the Citizen’s Ottawa location. Smith could not refuse these requests.”

* Smith received a fuel subsidy from the Citizen over which he had no control. In or around 2012, the Citizen unilaterally reduced the subsidy. The subsidy was again unilaterally reduced in 2014. The reduction did not reflect actual fuel costs and was imposed on Smith unilaterally without his input. Smith believed he could not refuse the reduction in the fuel subsidy.”

Fair play and daylight, bitches.

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One comment on “Remedial Media: Ottawa Petfinder Fishwrap Truckin’ Blues
  1. mmedesevigne says:

    The ONLY reason I do not cancel my (digital) subscription to The Petfinder is the obituary page. Every time I see a headline of the type “Three people, two cats left homeless by fire”, I’m afraid that if I start screaming, I won’t be able to stop.

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