It’s union versus union over the dismissal of former Pouch Cove mayor Sarah Patten.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents unionized employees of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees — NAPE — is claiming breach of contract by NAPE, which fired Patten last year from her job as executive secretary to NAPE president Carol Furlong amid conflict-of-interest allegations.
It’s the latest twist in a tangled story of alleged harassment and union solidarity.
According to court documents, in September 2011, Melina Osmond, Pouch Cove’s former assistant town clerk, filed a grievance — with NAPE, which represents unionized Pouch Cove town staff — against the town, alleging harassment by another employee. Patten was involved with discussions about the grievance, which was settled around June 2012. At a town council meeting the following month, council approved a motion from then-councillor Roxana Furlong-McGrath that declared Patten to be in a conflict of interest regarding all NAPE discussions, negotiations and settlements.
Furlong-McGrath also asked council to declare Patten’s seat vacant for not previously declaring a conflict of interest when dealing with matters between her employer and the town, but the motion was defeated.
In October 2012, Patten went on stress leave, with plans to return to work on the first business day of 2013. The following month, UFCW filed a grievance against NAPE and NAPE president Carol Furlong, alleging harassment. In January, Patten was notified by NAPE that she was being placed on paid leave while the matter was investigated. In March last year, according to UFCW’s application, Furlong-McGrath told Furlong that Patten had accused Furlong-McGrath, Furlong and Frank Pittman, NAPE’s employee relations officer, of being “in cahoots” in settling Osmond’s grievance. In early April says the UFCW, Patten was fired by NAPE. In her termination letter, Furlong said “the bond of trust is critical” for Patten’s position with the union.
“You have irrevocably broken that trust,” reads the letter, according to the application filed by UFCW. “Notwithstanding that you are a longtime employee with a clean disciplinary record, your actions were such that the bond of trust cannot be reestablished. Your false, malicious, reckless, defamatory and vexatious allegations undermine and damage the credibility, reputation and public image of the president, the office of the president, its employees and NAPE and cannot be ignored.”
UFCW’s application says Patten’s case should have been handled through arbitration, and that she should have continued to be employed until the decision of an arbitrator. Since she was fired, says UFCW, Patten has lost employment income, health benefits and dental care, RSP contributions and a motor-vehicle allowance, among other benefits. The union claims breach of contract, and wants the court to award Patten damages and costs and reinstate her until the matter is handled by arbitration.
A spokesman for NAPE president Furlong said the union wouldn’t comment on a matter currently before the courts. Patten similarly declined to comment, referring the Telegram to her union rep and lawyer, neither of whom returned messages seeking comment.