Former OFL president Sid Ryan sues federation for back vacation pay

A former Ontario union leader who fought for workers' rights is going to court to fight for what he says he's owed by the labour federation he used to lead.

Previous head of Ontario Federation of Labour claims he's owed thousands

Sid Ryan, former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, addresses union members after occupying then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's office in December 2010. (Adrien Veczan/ Reuters)

A former Ontario union leader who fought for workers' rights is going to court to fight for what he says he's owed by the labour federation he used to lead.

Sid Ryan has filed a lawsuit against the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), claiming it didn't pay him for his accrued vacation time when he left the organization.

"To have a small handful of union leaders who are now playing petty politics to deprive me of benefits I have worked my entire life for, I find that sickening," Ryan told CBC News last week.

Ryan posted a detailed statement about the lawsuit last Tuesday night on his Facebook account:

In it, he uses the same colourful language he was known for during his six years as OFL president.

"I will be damned if I allow a small bunch of self important back room boys to screw me out of banked vacation credits that I have earned," the statement reads.

None of his claims have been tested in court.

'Bad blood and petty politics'

Ryan argues he is owed a total of $43,000, though he filed his suit in small claims court, which deals with legal disputes valued at a maximum of $25,000.

He says he hopes to eventually recoup the entire amount, but told CBC he went through small claims court because "I felt it will be faster and less costly. The OFL has the resources to tie me up in expensive legalities and stalling tactics."

Ryan sent CBC News two images from his email dated in 2016, once he'd already retired, which he claims prove his case.

They show 108 days of outstanding vacation days.

One of two screenshots Sid Ryan sent CBC News, which he claims show he is owed vacation pay. (Submitted by Sid Ryan)

Ryan admits his latest move comes after a rift in the union that went on for years.

"I sincerely believe it's bad blood and petty politics with [current president Chris] Buckley that is at the root of the problem."

The Ontario Federation of Labour is a central labour body. Various unions pay into it. However, Ryan says while he was president some of them refused because they did not approve of him.

The federation has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit, Ryan says.

OFL reviewing the case

OFL president Chris Buckley refused to comment directly on the lawsuit, arguing that he can't with the case now before the courts.

In his filing with the court, Ryan wrote that: "It is common practice for elected officers and staff of the OFL to bank a portion of their vacation each year and receive a payout upon leaving office or retirement ... When I retired in December 2016, the newly elected president of the OFL refused to pay me my entitlement of accumulated banked vacation pay."

In a phone interview, Buckley insisted the OFL respects all labour and employment laws.

"The OFL is reviewing the suit made by Sid Ryan and the executive board will take fair and appropriate action."

'Ruffling feathers'

In September Ryan did an about-face, announcing he would not be seeking re-election as president of the federation after previously insisting he would run.

"I have always believed that good leaders are not afraid to lead and no activist worth their salt can create meaningful change without ruffling a few feathers," he wrote in a statement at the time.

Among the issues he says were most controversial about his tenure: leading CUPE Ontario to supporting "a free Palestine" and calling for employers to be given jail time for in cases of workplace fatalities.

"Some of the labour leaders who have opposed me have said that they share my working class values but they can't unite behind my leadership."