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Jerry Dias, Unifor's national president at the time, at a news conference in Toronto on Sept. 22, 2020.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Former Unifor leader Jerry Dias has been accused of breaching the union’s code of ethics by accepting $50,000 from a supplier of COVID-19 rapid-test kits in exchange for promoting the products to employers of union members, Unifor’s national executive board said on Wednesday.

Mr. Dias, who announced his retirement as national president on March 11, citing a “debilitating sciatic nerve issue,” will face a hearing before the board as early as April.

In a statement on Wednesday, his first in more than five weeks, Mr. Dias said he would check into a rehabilitation facility for substance-abuse issues. He said he had been coping with the nerve problem through pain killers, sleeping pills and alcohol, all of which had “impaired” his judgment in recent months.

At a news conference, Unifor national secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said Mr. Dias accepted the $50,000 from the supplier of the test kits at some point before Jan. 20, 2022.

Ms. Payne said an external investigation determined that “on the balance of probabilities,” he had breached the union’s constitution by promoting the test kits in December, 2021, and January, 2022, to various Unifor employers. Mr. Dias allegedly recommended the supplier’s test kits directly to employers and got Unifor staff members to promote the supplier, she said.

On Jan. 20, Mr. Dias allegedly gave a Unifor employee half of those funds, or $25,000, telling the employee it came from the supplier. The employee filed a complaint under Unifor’s code of ethics and gave the money to Ms. Payne, upon which the investigation was launched.

“No one is above our constitution,” Unifor Québec director Renaud Gagné said at the news conference. ”Dias’s actions as outlined in the findings are disturbing, and if confirmed by the hearing, were a clear betrayal of the duties of office and the trust that each of us as members put into our union.”

Unifor did not disclose the name of the supplier because it did not participate in the investigation, but the union acknowledged several employers bought the test kits.

Mr. Dias was asked to participate in the investigation but did not, the union said. In his statement, which was released as Unifor was holding its news conference, Mr. Dias said he was unable to take part in the investigation on the advice of his physician.

Mr. Dias told union executives on Feb. 6 that he was going on medical leave, a week after he learned he was being investigated by Unifor. He had previously said he would retire in August, after the union’s constitutional convention in Toronto, at which a new leader would be elected.

“My physician has told me, straight up, that I need help,” he said in his statement. “That’s why I am entering a residential rehabilitation facility.” Mr. Dias also said he would step away temporarily from all advisory positions.

The Globe and Mail reported last week on an e-mail dated Feb. 27 that said Mr. Dias was under investigation by the union. The e-mail was from Dave Cassidy, a senior union member, to members of the national executive board, which includes Ms. Payne.

The union did not make any public statements about the investigation until after The Globe asked about the e-mail and whether it was accurate that Mr. Dias was being investigated.

Unifor released a statement on March 14 confirming the investigation. Ms. Payne said the union had always intended to bring the results of the investigation to the national executive board and did not mention the investigation publicly prior to that because it was a confidential matter.

“Because our constitution requires confidentiality on these kinds of claims, you can appreciate why if we don’t provide that, no one will come forward with a complaint,” she said.

In an interview with The Globe, former New Democratic Party MP Peggy Nash, a long-time union activist, said she felt “sad” and “disappointed” upon hearing the allegations against Mr. Dias.

Ms. Nash, who worked alongside former national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union Basil (Buzz) Hargrove decades ago, also said she knew Mr. Dias well and he had done a lot of good things for workers.

It is unclear what penalty Mr. Dias would face from Unifor, given that he has resigned. He still holds union membership, so any kind of punishment for the breach could involve revoking his membership, Ms. Payne said.

The union will hold a special convention in the coming weeks to elect a new president. Scott Doherty, Mr. Dias’s executive assistant, is contending for the top job and has been endorsed by the national executive board. Mr. Cassidy is also running.

Mr. Dias was elected to his first of three successive terms as national president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, in 2013. The union represents 315,000 workers across multiple sectors, including the auto industry, and many employees at The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

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