My Story – Prior to My Dealings with the WCB and My Employer
This is part of my story explains the period prior to my dealings with the Ontario WCB and my work accident employer – Action Force.
This part of my story discusses what happened before I drove a truck, before I worked for my accident employer, and then before my debilitating work accident of February 6, 1997. The work accident that removed me from work for several months and still plagues me today.
My Pre-existing Non-Work-Related Disability
When I was young and in grade school, I had learned I was partially colour blind. I was told this is actually a very common condition in males. Approximately three out of every ten males are partially colourblind. Some are even totally colour blind and only see black and white. I used to know a truck driver years ago, who use to drive truck across Canada and was totally colour blind. This meant he could only see black & white. To me it seems from a perception sense, having this disability is more difficult than most other disabilities. When people are told a person is colourblind or partially, they are in utter disbelief and question you on it. They will say really, what colour is this, or that, like they need to test you to believe what you say is in fact true. I said to one close friend once, do you walk up to people in wheelchairs kick the wheelchair out from underneath them and say, come on you can walk can’t you. So, why do you do this to me. He thought about it and apologized. I really was not offended. I was just trying to make him, and others realize, that when we question others about the existence of a disability, are we not just offending them? When I put my disability in that context, people start to realize what they are doing and quickly stop. Unfortunately, this will become more relevant later in my story of my dealings with Ontario’s Workers Compensation Board – WCB.
If you are not colourblind then you should see a number in each of the circles. Unfortunately, those that are partially or totally colourblind see nothing in all or will only see some numbers, but circles with coloured dots. In my case I see the 16 in top left and I vaguely see the 8 in the bottom left. It just means that my eyes cannot process colours like other eyes can. You may be surprised to find how common it is among people. The problem lies with certain types of jobs, such as: a pilot, a firefighter, policeman, baggage handler, and yes in some countries & provinces you cannot drive, but in Ontario, it is still allowed. Yes, even to drive transport truck. What the main difference is that the orientation of the lights and size. The red light is always on the top and is the largest light, of the cluster of lights. Whereas, the green is located on the on bottom and smallest, with the exception of an added directional arrow. As you can see in the picture below of a traffic light.
Also a lot of traffic lights have directional arrows as opposed to just coloured lights. Some even have left, right and straight.
If you went by position and not colour of the light you would think this was an amber light. But there are two safety features. The first is you noticed right away the sign to the right which now most have learned to look for. Second, in a lot of places, like Ontario it changed the law with amber lights to say you must stop on amber, unless unsafe to stop. My point is people can adapt to this, but not in many other jobs like being a pilot, or jobs in computers where you need to see and know all colours.
To learn more about colourblindness and the different types click here or got to http://www.colorvisiontesting.com/color2.htm
Maybe now women won’t be so quick to make fun of men who dress funny, ok maybe some!
My Health Prior to Working for my Accident Employer Employers, the WCB, and the tribunal will often ask if you have ever been hurt prior to your work injury. They don’t care if it was work related or not, or even related to the current injury. However, legally the employer is supposed to be specific and say for the area of injury.
They lie and ask in general, so they can see if you have any other injuries so they could claim your slow recovery is the result of the other injuries, if you had any. If ever you wonder if someone is doing something illegal and they know it. Then to confirm your suspicions, ask them to put it in writing. If the employer, in this example, refuses that would give you a strong indication what they are asking for is in fact illegal. I also now love communicating with my employer directly by e-mail. The WSIB, to this day refuses to communicate that way and will only speak on the telephone – why, because they can later deny what was said and agreed to.
Well regardless, to answer the question, before I started working at Canadian Tire, through Action Force Driver Service, I was never hurt or ever suffered any injuries work related or not. I was always considered a healthy adult male, as reported by my many physicals done by my doctor well before and just before my work at Action Force.
Work Before My February 1997 Injury In 1987, I obtained my tractor trailer license. What really surprises some people, when they learn I drove transport truck and I am colourblind, is how can I get a license to drive a transport truck. I tell them Ontario does not colour test, when you get any driver’s license. As you would learn it is a recognized disability and in other jurisdictions it has not been challenged in the law, yet! It is something that cities and towns can accommodate by having strict guidelines for traffic lights. You might say, well that’s not right, but many people would be out of work if they couldn’t drive, especially those who do it for a living. I know getting my license, allowed me to become a transport truck driver. Something that provided not a great income, but a good enough income. This allowed me from becoming a burden on society, well at least until I got hurt at work.
As, in a lot of workers compensation cases. Because workers when injured are supposed to be cared for by the workers compensation board, which is fully paid for my employer premiums and not by taxpayers! When I first started driving tractor-trailer, I drove locally in the city performing deliveries and pickups. Overtime, I worked on the highway, starting with highway switches, being home every night. To then going on the highway where I would be gone for weeks at a time. I would deliver loads across Canada and all over the Unites States. I can say I have been to every part of Canada except the Territories and PEI. I have also been all over the United States except Alaska and Hawaii, Truck might get a little wet going to Hawaii! This was until in 1993, when I got tired of always being away from home. It was at this time I decided to just do local work. I worked for several companies, but mainly all just temporary agencies. This is how companies in Canada: avoid dealing with labour organizing such as unions; avoid paying decent wages & benefits; as well as avoid responsibility for unsafe workplaces. This went on for several years, then in March of 1995, I started working for my employer Action Force Driver Service this is what is referred to as the ‘accident employer’.
Working for Accident Employer & Customer:
In March 1995, I started working for Action Force Driver Service. Action Force sent me to work solely and directly for a major Canadian retail outlet called Canadian Tire. Canadian Tire sells home improvement, sports, and automotive products. They also have an auto repair centre in all their stores. I only ever work directly at Canadian Tire, well until about six months after my work injury, in the summer of 1997, when I was fired by them. I know even I laugh to!
HOW THE HELL CAN A CLIENT COMPANY FIRE YOU, WHEN YOU DON’T WORK FOR THEM!
That is like me walking into Tim Hortons or McDonalds and firing a staff member. I know insanely stupid! However, this just shows the level of direct control these companies have over temp workers.
Action force was a driver service. For those that do not know, driver services were/are a temporary agency. Companies, like Action Force, would send workers to work on, what they claimed to be, “a temporary basis” , at the employer’s clients place of business. I know I laugh, even twenty years later, when I say it. Let’s be honest there was NOTHING temporary about the work I did. I worked 70 hours per week and worked there for three years. So, I would honestly say it was more of contract work. As an individual would be assigned to work at a place for an indefinite period. However, employers, like Action Force, liked the phrase “temporary” when dealing with their workers. This way they could always remind the workers they were just temporary and could be let go at any moment. This they hoped instill fear in their workers and it did.
Instilled FEAR in the workers, so that the workers would not question the actions of the client company, no matter how dangerous, the work or the workplace became.
Instilled FEAR in the workers, so that the workers would not report work injuries or go along with the company when the company failed to report the work accident/injuries to the WCB.
Instilled FEAR in the workers, so that the workers would NEVER EVER consider organizing and forming anything close to a union!
To the many naysayers of this, I say to you, put your money where your FAT mouth is. Man up, or women up, and go work for a temp agency. Then tell me your rights as a human being are fully respected. As though, you worked directly for the client employer. Better yet go work for a temp agency and work at Canadian Tire or Walmart’s warehouse loading the trucks!
A Toronto Star Reporter, by the name of Sara Mojtehedzadeh actually went undercover in her riveting story Undercover in Temp Nation
about working as a temp worker at Fiera Foods, located in Toronto Ontario.
At Fiera Foods, they have had five workers killed in their workplace. This was mainly due to the lack of worker protections from using temp workers. Worst yet, the majority of these temp workers are new Canadians. This means that they know little of their rights as workers, as human beings and are easily exploited.
Sadly, and without reservation, I would say that Sara’s undercover story, only scratched the surface.
For, I have worked at many retail giants, as a truck driver and as such truck drivers are exposed to virtually every aspect of workplaces – we see and hear everything!
I have worked at many such retail giants as Canadian Tire, K-Mart, Zellers, Giant Tiger, Loblaws, Oshawa Foods, Sobeys, A&P, Walmart, and many others. Some of these, are no more and some are still around today. These retail giants continue to use temp workers and many other varied forms of labour rights suppression. Such as outsourcing of transportation and warehousing.
I have taken numerous business and labour study courses, both at College and University. I graduated college with honors, in business administration. I am still attending University now. I have thought long and hard. If I was ever successful enough, in University, to write a dissertation. I would write about the retail giants using the many methods to separate themselves from their labour force.
I would focus on the common who, what, why, how and where. I know the why is for them to save money. Since, the late 1990’s business has been infatuated with saving. In many cases at great cost to the business.
I understand business can save money from outsourcing and the use of temp agency workers in three specific ways.
First, workers are controlled by the complete prevention of any labour organizing.
Think about it for a minute!
If, you were to organize the labour and form a union at a temp agency, for the workers who work at a company, like Canadian Tire. Then the company, like Canadian Tire, cancels the contract with the temp agency and these workers are out of work. This allows Canadian Tire to have absolute control over its labour force and immediately quell any labour rights uprising.
Moreover, companies, like Canadian Tire, also use several temp agencies. This protects the company, like Canadian Tire, in the event the temp agency unionizes, goes broke, can’t handle the demand of labour, and allows Canadian Tire to dictate pricing on labour costs. This level of control the workforce allows companies, like Canadian Tire to reduce and keep wages low. A good example is in the late 1990’s when I worked there, the employees who worked directly for Canadian Tire, earned over $25 per hour. This provided a gross weekly income of approximately of $1,000 per week. The truck drivers who worked directly for Canadian Tire would work more hours, between 60 and 70 hours per week. This meant they made $2,125 per week gross approximately. This was based on a weekly base pay of 40 hours at regular pay and 30 hours at overtime (time and a half pay).
Common sense would agree that most of these workers, who worked directly for Canadian Tire, owned a car, owned a home and lived a good life. However, once Canadian Tire started using temp workers, in the warehouse, in transportation, and elsewhere, these workers’ wages were significantly reduced. Temp workers who worked in the warehouse were generally considered unskilled general labour jobs, aside from machine operators.
These temp workers were paid minimum wage and at the time was just under $7 per hour. This was approximately $280 per week gross income. This is a direct wage loss to workers of approximately $18 per hour or $1,470 per week. This translated to temp workers, renting, instead of owning a home, taking a bus, as opposed to owning a car, and generally lived a very difficult life. Then there was the added great uncertainty of employment of not knowing if you have work from one day to the next.
Truck drivers who were temp workers at Canadian Tire, on the other hand, faired a bit better. They were paid about $15 per hour and would average between 60 and 70 hours per week this meant a weekly wage of about $1,050 gross. Another issue with temp truck drivers is that when truck drivers who worked directly for the company like Canadian Tire, or Loblaws, under the law they were paid overtime pay after 44 hours per week. For some reason this did not apply to temp workers. I have no doubt this action to not pay overtime was illegal, on the part of the temp agencies and their client companies. Something, I will be exploring in the near future!
As you can see the cost of reduced wages, on its own, is a huge motive for business, whose sole purpose is to increase profit, by any means necessary. The temp companies would receive a fee, which was to manage the workers. Most times, it was just the temp agency writing a cheque. Even with this fee the companies, like Canadian Tire would still save on every hourly wage paid to a worker. However, in addition there is tax savings.
Second, is that companies like Canadian Tire take huge tax deductions, for the cost of their workforce being outsourced or using temp agency. You see under current tax laws employers get a very small tax deduction for its payroll costs. This is for workers who work directly for the employer. It is the same as when a business buys a vehicle over leasing a vehicle. When they buy it can take years to write it off, yet leasing is 100% write off. So, when these companies use temp agencies or contracting companies, they take a huge tax deduction. When you are dealing with multimillion and multibillion-dollar corporations, every penny, even in tax breaks, is huge to them for their increased profits.
The third reason and the one that impacts all workers and injured workers, is how workplace accidents and injuries are reported. You see when a direct worker who worked for Canadian Tire is injured in the workplace, like private car insurance, these injuries, when there are a lot of them, impacts the cost of the workers compensation premiums.
I do not think anyone would disagree even business owners, if you have a bad employer with a really dangerous workplace, where workers are getting hurt all the time, that bad employers should be held accountable through paying increased premiums. This way, it cuts into their ever-loving profits. Thus, discourages these profit driven companies from allowing a dangerous workplace.
Now, a problem arose in the late 1990’s, or perhaps earlier, where companies, like Canadian Tire would use temp agency workers, like myself, and when we get hurt, it has zero impact on Canadian Tire. What I noticed was that instead of workplaces becoming safer, they became even more dangerous.
A very clear example is that in the mid 1990’s Canadian Tire was changing the way they transported their product to stores. Initially, they were moving to a safer way of doing things. Previously, they would have the product, destined for their stores, loaded in their trailers by hand. This was from floor to the ceiling, of the trailer and from wall to wall in the trailer. This caused them, as an employer, a great cost in workplace injuries. Both from the extremely heavy repetitive nature of the work and from items falling on their workers, as they are loading and unloading the trailers. It was decided at some point at Canadian Tire, to transition to a skid system. This simply meant that the product, destined for the Canadian Tire stores, would be placed on wooden skids. The skids would then be wrapped in shrink wrap or commonly known by household use as “saran wrap”. This meant two things, the workers, including truck drivers, had much less physical work to perform and the process drastically reduced the injuries from items falling on their workers. Now in the late 1990’s, someone at Canadian Tire head office went “hey, we are wasting a lot of space when we load these trailers and ship them across the country.” There was about two inches underneath the skids so they could be lifted by a forklift or a manual pump truck. There was also, some space between the skids. So that person at Canadian Tire head office convinced Canadian Tire to go away from skidding their loads to the stores and instead load the product on the floor to ceiling. Now, from a number’s person, this decision makes perfect sense. However, from a wholistic point of view, it is intentionally causing needless injury & death to your workers. Now if the warehouse workers, the truck drivers, and the store employees, were all employees of Canadian Tire this would make a very valid argument. However, the majority of which are now temp workers and any work accident and work injuries did not affect the companies, like Canadian Tire. Therefore, this drove the point and they switched to every load to their stores being floor loaded and unloaded. Additionally, after my work injuries in 1997, I learned that the few stores where the truck drivers would instead drop the trailer. These stores have since become driver offload stores.
I would say without a doubt, a reporter needs and must go undercover,
much like Sara did in her Feira Foods story.
They need to look at how the logistics works in the retail giants like
Walmart, Canadian Tire and others.
I will say food delivery is much different in that it is all skidded.
Ironically, this was done not for worker safety,
but for the purpose of the food not getting destroyed.
As I mentioned, I was assigned by Action Force to work solely at Canadian Tire Transportation. This is where I would drive a Canadian Tire tractor-trailer for Canadian Tire. I would deliver their products from the Canadian Tire warehouse to their stores. This meant that I had to physically unload the trailers by hand and in most cases I was in the trailer by myself. As I previously mentioned, the trailers were hand loaded and hand unloaded by the driver. This was to save Canadian Tire money.
The trailers that were hand loaded and unloaded, had an approximate dimension of 53 feet long, 10 feet high, and 8 feet wide. The physical unloading of a trailer sounds simple enough. However, warehouse workers, who loaded these trailers and the truck drivers who unloaded the trailers. This was heavy repetitive physical work with some unloading or unloading 2 or 3 trailers a day. The products these workers lifted weighed anywhere form 1lb to as much as several hundred pounds.
I was very concerned about the dangerous work environment. So, I bought a camera. I took it with me to work every day and I took a large number of photos. Unfortunately, I gave most of my photos that I took at work, including photos from the day I got hurt to my MPP’s (Member of Provincial Legislature) office. I was thinking they would advocate for me, as I was their constituent. Not only did they not advocate for me, they said they have boxes piled higher in their basement. Then they refused to return my photos. I don’t remember the MPP’s name. I know he was a Harris Conservative MPP. I think he was the Minister of Labour - ironically.
Fortunately, I was able to keep a few and have provided them here for you to see the work environment.
While a picture says a thousand words. Unfortunately, the photos do not show the physical experience, especially the extreme cold or extreme heat. In the summer, sometimes the trailer temperature would reach well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I know this as I used a thermometer one day and measured the temperature.
My point is that performing this heavy physical work, overtime, causes repetitive strain injuries, or as I like to refer to as overtime injuries. This is because the injuries do not happen suddenly, like most injuries, but over period of time. This could be months or even years later. Additionally, these workers would often suffer numerous work injuries in a day from items falling on them. This was because the inside of the trailer was, as I previously mentioned, ten feet high. I still remember when I sue to come home from work and strip down to shower my body would be covered in bruises form the boxes and other items hitting every day.
Anytime I raised concern about the extremely unsafe working conditions I and other workers were always told that we were temporary workers and if we didn’t like it, we could quit. Humm chose this brutal work over unemployment. By the way workers no longer got unemployment insurance if they quit their job.
I have always believed working in dangerous work environments for temp agencies, in a bad economy,
is like putting a gun to a person’s head
and saying jump off the five-hundred-foot cliff, or I will shoot!
A you may now understand, the worker doesn’t really have much choice to not work in an unsafe workplace. They either starve or work and maybe get hurt or not. Ironically, this was the same attitude legislatures and judges had in Canada up and until 1890’s, when they started to realize workers were not always to blame for their work injuries and laws began to change to favour workers. My point is that it seems to me we are de-evolving in the world of workplace safety!
If you don’t believe this work environment exists, even today and you do not beleive the worker/employer relationship happened to me and many others,
while working at Canadian Tire,
that is ok, because the facts, the documentation, and most of all the photos I took do not lie!
Working for temp agencies, is commonly referred to by scholars, people who research labour, as “precarious work” . The name is self-explanatory, as temp workers do not know for certain if they have worked the next day or not.
Some may argue that I should have been grateful for having work at such a bad economic time, even if the working conditions were so bad. This was when work was extremely scarce, due to the downturn in the economy. Not to mention it was a time of corporate mergers, acquisitions, and most of all downsizing through outsourcing. Ironically, I was grateful for the work. I was never upset about the hard-physical work, in fact I loved it. I was just concerned about getting hurt, as any normal person would be. I expressed my concerns to my employer and Canadian Tire on numerous occasions, as did countless others. All we were ever told was to be grateful you have a job. The irony is when they would have safety meetings with the drivers once a year. We were not allowed to discuss the unsafe working conditions. These meetings were about how we as drivers were nothing but a bunch of screw ups on the road and in the yard when we drove their trucks. How dare we damage their equipment and we need to be more careful. Others may argue that I should have quit. Well looking back. I agree and I really wish I had quit. I even remember another driver walking up to the dispatch counter dropping the keys and telling them he was not a slave - he was a driver. The only thing I thought at the time, when I saw this, was what a fool. Now I look back thinking, it was really me who was the fool. The reason I never quit was because I was a very hard worker and just wanted work. Like today I just wanted the money to have a good life, not a great life just a good one!
The economy was in the toilet – typical for that era!
Not to mention the Harris Conservative government was destroying any social programs and clawing back any work rights. So, forget about that as an option. On the Federal side, Paul Martin’s Liberals cut unemployment insurance to the point there was none if you quit or got fired.
Which begs the question why do we have unemployment insurance again? Another topic for another day.
I remember once I even called the Ministry of Labour for Ontario regarding the dangerous work environment. The person on the phone had advised me to speak to my union. I remember I never laughed so hard on the phone to the individual. I explained to her that I worked for a temporary agency, which met I was the opposite of a union.
I had no representation.
I had no rights.
I was not human in the mind of my employer and their client company – Canadian Tire! The reason why I was laughing so hard was the Ministry of Labour was so out of touch with reality, and the current labour movement to say such a thing to a worker.
It was clear I would never get any real help to make the workplace safer.
So, I carried on waiting for better work to come along and took as many pictures as I could. I also did a lot of praying I would not get hurt seriously and I am not religious!
My normal day consisted of starting at a varied start time. My start time was based on the delivery time for the store, plus travel time. So, for example, if I had a delivery to Owen Sound for 6am. I would generally be in the yard for 3am to allow me time to pre-inspect the truck and trailer and the travel to the store to be there for 6am. So, my start time varied each day form 3am to 8am each morning. My day generally consisted of after inspecting the truck and trailer, I would then drive to Canadian Tire’s store. This was between a half hour to two hours depending on the location.
At the store, the driver would physically lift each piece of item for the store and place it on a roller system. In some stores, the driver would have to carry the items to the end of the trailer. This was because the store did not have a roller system. Now I loved the physical work it kept me in shape, but I was afraid of the stuff falling on me, as all drivers were. I would be hit by items, while unloading the trailer two, three, or more times a day. I was told that Canadian Tire had so many injuries in the warehouse with the hand loading of the trailers, they actually had a procedure for when an ambulance arrives to cart people away, who got hurt. Truck drivers were routinely hurt at the stores. At least two or three times a week, a driver would get hurt. Some drivers would avoid reporting the accidents and injuries for fear of retaliation by Canadian Tire and their driver service employer. Remember all Canadian Tire had to say to the agency was we don’t want him or her back and that was it you were out of work. Furthermore, it was not uncommon to see many drivers off due to work injuries and then after a week or less they would be fired for being injured and unable to do their regular job. I never really believed people were fired when they got hurt, until it happened to me!
The problem with this work environment is the cowards in the office who says its safe. They never have to actually do the work. They get to sit in a safe, air-conditioned office and never have to lift a finger.
I have often said that If I had a choice for vengeance or a large financial settlement,
if I was allowed to hold those accoutnbale.
I would take vengeance, with a much smaller financial settlement.
By this I mean, I would ask the judge to order every person involved,
from dispatchers, to office staff, to WSIB & WSIAT staff,
that they have to physically unload one trailer - by themselves!
I think then they may have more respect for people – especially injured workers.
Obviously, this would not be legal, practical, or realistic!
My work week, while I worked at Canadian Tire was between 60 and 75 hours per week,
I worked at Action Force for Canadian Tire Transportation for more than two and a half years.
So, as you can see there was noting casual or temporary about this work!
Additionally, in my time working at Canadian Tire, I was never paid for
vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, and I was only paid overtime pay, only after I had worked 60 hours per week.
Again, if we complained to the company about it, we were told that is how
Canadian Tire pays the truck drivers and it is all legal – yeah right!
My story now transitions into my dealings with the WCB Click here to go to the page of my story!