Impaired driving case is union protectionism run amok

I never was much of a union man. Never belonged to one. Never felt I needed to. Always felt hard work would be rewarded and, if anything, I would be worse off under a collectively bargained employment agreement. And so far, I think I’ve been right.

But my anti-union stance has softened of late. We are on the brink of an AI revolution that could render countless jobs and occupations obsolete. And who among us has seen our income keep pace with the cost of living?

(Photo: iStock)

Maybe there is a place for unions, after all. But then something like this happens.

A Groupe Robert driver was involved in a crash after pounding back nine – or was it 12, she can’t be sure – beers while behind the wheel of a truck traveling between Montreal and Pennsylvania last June. Hey, I don’t drink like I used to, but I’d lose count after nine beers, too.

Not that it matters. Everyone knows there is zero tolerance for drinking while driving – in any type of vehicle. We also all know there’s zero tolerance when it comes to drinking and driving a commercial vehicle. The driver involved here was arrested with a blood alcohol level of 0.18 – more than twice the legal limit.

She was immediately dismissed, as she should be, without question. But an arbitrator has ordered her reinstated after a successful defense by her union. Even when, according to Groupe Robert, “the collective agreement between the company and the union representing drivers is clear: The penalty for drinking and driving is immediate termination of employment.”

I understand unions have an obligation to defend their members in work-related matters. But to what end? The driver in question drank nine – or was it 12? – beers while behind the wheel of an 80,000-lb. commercial truck. Think of all the vehicles she passed on the highway that night, all the lives she could’ve taken because of her recklessness. The number of families destroyed by no fault of their own.

Where are their protections? Would the driver be deserving of reinstatement had she caused a fatal collision? At what point does the Teamsters who represents her – or any union, for that matter – say, “Too much. You’ve gone too far. We can’t defend this. We can’t defend you.”

When does logic step in? Certainly not in this case. I’d like to know who at Groupe Robert wants this person back working among them? Who is the union really protecting here? One individual at the expense of the many. Groupe Robert drivers are good drivers. I share the road with them all the time and feel safe doing so. You think any one of them want her back?

Her deplorable actions on that night could have cost not only innocent lives, but every single one of those Robert drivers their jobs. This is the type of scenario truck-hating plaintiff lawyers in the U.S. dream about. By sheer luck, the collision didn’t involve any personal injuries or fatalities. Had it done so, even a sizeable company like Groupe Robert could find itself put out of business by a nuclear verdict. I ask again – who is the union protecting?

I hope the driver in this case doesn’t return to work at Groupe Robert. I hope she gets the help she needs and gets healthy. I hope she decides of her own accord that trucking isn’t the job for her. And I hope unions set reasonable limitations in terms of which actions are worthy of forgiveness and reinstatement, and which aren’t. There has to be a line here somewhere. And if this isn’t it, then where is it?

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • This woman needs to go to jail! She cares nothing for others and believes she is above the law, not only is she a danger to others, she puts a black mark on all truck drivers. There is enough public opinion against us without a driver like this being allowed to get away with flaunting the law!
    I was OTR for years, and the Robert drivers I saw always seemed able to do their job well! They don’t need someone like this dragging them down.
    We all know what the Gossip Telegraph is like out there.
    She is not a driver just another black spot on the most important industry in the world!!

  • I agree with you that the individual should be fired. But you miss the mark on the logic….the Union is legally required under section 37 of the Labour code to defend the member as best they can, regardless of how agregious the behaviour. The must do this because the labour board fines Unions ridiculously high amounts of money if they don’t defend well. It would be like you hired a lawyer and the did a half asked job because you were obviously guilty. The Union is just doing their job because the idiotic government makes them do it. It’s the arbitrators that are the problem…

  • Thanks James Menzies for posting what we all think and feel in this “ most preposterous “ decision promoted by organizations benign of common sense .

  • Had to join a union as a condition of employment. I found that they went out of their way to defend the lazy, the rule breakers, the incompetents who should and would have been fired anywhere else.
    Don’t get me wrong, yes, they were needed at one time. Some gave their lives for what they believed and much of what we have today is because of them. I just feel many of them have outlived their original purpose.