Man says his firing from a Kootenay sawmill was racially motivated
Canfor denies the claim, saying termination usually follows a health or safety concern
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.
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.
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