British Columbia

Man says his firing from a Kootenay sawmill was racially motivated

A Black Canadian fired from his job at a sawmill believes he was dismissed due to his race.

Canfor denies the claim, saying termination usually follows a health or safety concern

Reymer Gomez worked for seven years as a chef at a forestry camp in the Flathead Valley before getting a job at Canfor's Elko sawmill. (Submitted by Reymer Gomez)

Reymer Gomez says his dismissal from a sawmill in B.C.'s  East Kootenay region is the result of racial discrimination although his former employer denies this. 

Gomez, who is originally from Cuba, got a job working at the Elko Sawmill east of Cranbrook, B.C., three months ago after working for seven years as a camp cook in the Flathead Valley.

He says his supervisor wasn't there when he completed his first shift, but did show up during his second shift, and did not introduce Gomez to the rest of the crew or use his name.

"He never even wanted to talk to me, that was my feeling the whole time," says Gomez.

Near the end of that shift, the supervisor noticed Gomez looking at a text from his wife on his cellphone and warned him that was against company policy.

Complaint to union

At the beginning of his fifth shift Gomez says he was called into an office with his supervisor, a union representative and another person. He was told his employment was terminated because of cellphone use on the job site.

 

I think if I was a 20-year-old white man I'd get a call, just have a conversation.-  Reymer Gomez

 

Gomez, who has a wife and five kids, says he was stunned.

"I think if I was a 20-year-old white man I'd get a call, just have a conversation," he says.

Canfor says it cannot discuss an individual worker's termination because of privacy issues. But in an email to CBC, Canfor's senior communications director Michelle Ward said, "Termination decisions are often made to protect the health and safety of all employees working at a facility. Canfor is committed to developing an inclusive culture and diverse workforce that reflects the communities where we operate." 

Gomez complained to his union, United Steelworkers Local 1-405 in Cranbrook, which grieved the firing. 

He says he was then called at home on Aug. 6 by the company and asked if he'd looked at his cellphone more than once. He said he had not.

Canfor then alleged it had video tape of Gomez looking at his cellphone a second time while on the job. They accused him of watching a movie and said his firing would stand.

Canfor declined to discuss its decision to fire Reymer Gomez, citing privacy concerns. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Unusual treatment for workers

Steelworkers local vice-president Doug Wood says the way Gomez was treated is highly unusual.

"I've been there a long time and I've been plant chairman and in the union for over 25 years at that mill and I've never seen anyone treated like this. Never."

Wood says typically the company would have a conversation with the worker and his union before firing them.

The Steelworkers are talking to their lawyer about taking the matter to outside arbitration, he added.

"We never gave the man a chance," Wood says.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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