Hydro-Quebec had to pay construction crews to do nothing
Published Monday, February 10, 2014 10:20AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:21AM EST
Unionized workers in Quebec were paid full salary while building a dam for Hydro-Quebec while performing absolutely no tasks, all with the blessing of their executives.
Dozens of people have told the Charbonneau Commission that they were bullied and intimidated at construction sites in Quebec, and all were too afraid to talk in public about what happened.
Michel Comeau, an investigator with the corruption inquiry, personally met 70 people who had been harassed and threatened, whether they were employers, company owners, managers or union representatives.
Testifying at the Inquiry on Monday, Comeau described how when he and fellow investigators went to job sites in Quebec nobody would talk openly for fear of reprisals.
Comeau said the rule of thumb for a construction worker in Quebec seems to be keep your mouth shut and don't speak up -- or expect not to work again.
He said that for many years union executives, who had the power to decide which members would get to work and where, pressured employers to accept and pay employees who were not performing any tasks.
"It was tolerated and everybody on the job knew it," said Comeau.
As an example of corrupt business practices enforced by the unions, Comeau poined to the Peribonka power plant built in Saguenay from 2006 until 2008,
German company Bauer was in charge of the $1.3 billion project that employed 700 people, and brought over 100 specialized workers.
Comeau said the German employees were routinely harassed and intimidated to the point that many returned overseas.
The company was only able to stop the workplace disruptions by meeting with executives from the Federation of Labour, including Jean Lavallée and 'representative' Jocelyn Dupuis, a known gangster associate.
Bauer eventually agreed to pay two QFL members to 'observe' each German employee on the job site.
That means for two years, men were paid $82,000 to $92,000 per year to play games, talk, sleep, read, and drink alcohol.
"There was a German worker on each crane and he was accompanied by two crane operators from the QFL, paid full-time, to do nothing," said Comeau.
On its books, Hydro-Quebec called the practice "risk management."
Thugs, threats the norm on North Shore
Later in the day Comeau said that Quebec's largest construction union was responsible for driving up the cost of projects on Quebec's North Shore.
According to Comeau Bernard "Rambo" Gauthier and his union lieutenants would routinely threaten and even attack anyone who disagreed with their desires.
In one instance an employer who fired workers for being incompetent was attacked.
Another who refused to pay workers extra fees for 'travel' -- when they were living near a work site -- saw equipment destroyed.
Comeau said that provincial police reportedly felt threatened by "Rambo."
According to Comeau the only way any construction project would happen without any problems was if employers agreed to bribe the union to get things done smoothly.
When the union was paid extra, jobs were actually able to be completed in two-thirds of the time budgeted.