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Hunger striker canned

J.P. SQUIRE

The Daily Courier

2011-10-04


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Forklift driver Jeff Bryde returned to work at Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative at 7 a.m. Monday. But five to 10 minutes into his first shift after a five-day suspension, the 37-year employee was fired.
In a letter, director of operations Rod Vint told him: "Your multiple acts of insubordination including your misleading and reckless public criticism of OTFC and B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd., our business practices and OTFC‘s disciplinary response to your misconduct is completely incompatible with you maintaining your employment with OTFC."
According to Vint, Bryde continued to disobey instructions and violated his duty of fidelity to the employer.
"You have shown clear contempt toward and disregard for management and the organization," said Vint, adding Bryde‘s misconduct "has irreparably destroyed the employment relationship."
Bryde was surprised by his termination shortly after 7 a.m. since he was scheduled to meet with management and a union representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers local 247 at noon Monday.
"I was actually going to phone in sick today because I‘ve had physical and mental stress over the last week. No, I thought I‘m going to work and whatever happens happens. The way I look at it is I may have lost the battle, but I don‘t think I‘ve lost the war because a lot more is going to come out of this," he said Monday.
"The ball is now in the union‘s court. I told them I want to put in a grievance. I‘ll see how the union is going to support me. If not, I‘ve got labour lawyer Robert Smithson available for legal advice. He knows my side of the story."
Bryde was suspended without pay for five days after writing a letter to the editor of The Daily Courier, revealing B.C. Tree Fruits - owned by B.C. fruit growers - is importing Washington state apples. Bryde thinks BCTF should concentrate on marketing and selling B.C. Fruit exclusively.
Bryde went on a hunger strike and picketed outside the B.C. Tree Fruits office on Water Street during his suspension.
His protest was successful, he said, in increasing public awareness of BCTF‘s policy of importing U.S. apples. He just found out BCTF is also importing U.S. barlett pears.
"My fight has always been against B.C. Tree Fruits and not the Okanagan Tree Fruit company. People get these organizations mixed up, but they are different."
Bryde also wants to talk to Jim Elliot, co-op president, who accused Bryde of spreading false information since "not once have I have ever done that."
Bryde laughed when asked if he was ready for retirement after starting at the packinghouse when he was 20 years of age and working there for 37 years. "No, not yet," he responded.
Aside from getting support from passersby, his protest was also an opportunity to observe downtown activity, especially the plight of the homeless. It brought tears to his eyes on Friday.
On Thursday afternoon, a woman in a wheelchair who was muttering about hurting someone smacked the side of his head as he bent over and explained what he was doing.
"The whole week that I was doing this I saw what happens on the street. I saw homelessness," he said.
"I think the reason I felt guilty on Friday was there was two women: one lady slept there by herself Tuesday morning," he said pointing to Water Street. "And then there was that lady in a wheelchair who probably desperately needed help. Mental illness is definitely a big part of it."

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