A most fond farewell
Tom Ludwig photos
Tom Ludwig photo: Nelson Roland
The victories

Nelson Roland, CWA Canada's departing legal counsel, says he's "derived a great deal of satisfaction fighting good cases for wonderful people."

Several of those cases stand out for Roland:

Janice Contant. In 2006, she broke through the male bastion that was the pressroom at the Red Deer Advocate.

"I was very happy to have won that case," says Roland. Contant is still working in the Alberta newspaper's pressroom. "She's a single mother. She's now making a much better wage to support her kids."

David Francis. In 2003, Roland won the "virtually unprecedented" ruling that awarded the type of damages usually associated with human rights cases.

The disclosure of records of a third-party insurance company in that case was "just amazing," says Roland. "It was like a gold mine." He also recalls the "brilliant ... compelling testimony" by Francis, an investigative reporter.

Tim Martel. His was one of the longest cases in the history of the New Brunswick Labour Board, yet not a word of it was reported in any of the newspapers in the province, most of which were — and still are — owned by the anti-union Irving family. Only the CBC reported on the case of the union leader at Fredericton's Daily Gleaner who was axed because of his union activities.

The Brantford Expositor. Roland describes this as a "funny" case, while CWA Canada staff representative David Esposti says it was precedent-setting and "allowed us to negotiate lifetime job guarantees (for compositors) at many newspapers."

"We sort of hatched a scheme" in 1987 at a convention in Miami, says Roland. "It had to do with a bad-faith bargaining charge and we were going to set up the employer."

The "ancient" ITU contract contained an "ironclad" clause that combined jurisdiction and recognition (description of bargaining unit), which the employer was desperate to get rid of because it prevented the newspaper from putting in modern technology (cold type).

The setup played out during contract negotiations when Esposti told the company he was willing to bargain on any issue except the jurisdiction/recognition clause. After the employer refused twice to remove the demand from the table, Esposti left the room, called Roland and told him to file the bad-faith bargaining charge "right now." He then walked back into the room and informed company negotiators of the charges.

The ITU won the case because it is illegal for an employer (or a union) to bargain recognition to an impasse. In the end, the union agreed to relinquish jurisdiction in exchange for the company giving its compositors jobs for life and retraining them. "It allowed our people to do much of the work they used to do, albeit in a different fashion," says Esposti.

Union laments loss of long-time legal counsel
to ranks of Ontario arbitrators

CWA Canada Web Editor

Nelson Roland's middle initial is J. Stands for Jay. Jim Cole thinks his middle initials should be J.C. As in "I think he walks on water."

Cole, and many other members of CWA Canada, are thrilled that Roland is advancing to the next stage of his labour law career. But they're also sorrowful that the national union is losing its cherished legal counsel.

Roland is joining the Ontario Ministry of Labour's stable of more than 100 arbitrators.

"I'm 57 now and I wanted to find another angle on practising the profession," says Roland. "So now I'm off to be in the impartial zone. I truly am looking forward to it."

Cole, president of the Saint John Typographical Union since 1994, calls Roland's departure "the biggest loss (CWA Canada) will have ever experienced."

The New Brunswicker's admiration of the man goes far beyond his gratitude to Roland for "saving my job" in the early '90s:

"Since I've been president of the Local, we've won every grievance, thanks to Nelson and (CWA Canada staff representative David) Esposti. Nelson was my ace-in-the-hole. Every time we had a grievance and I said I was bringing him in, the company (Irving) would start backing off."

Esposti says his relationship with Roland goes back 25 years, to a time when the International Typographical Union (ITU) had retained a Toronto law firm to handle its Canadian files. Roland, who was with the firm, started to take on a lot of the ITU cases.

When he eventually struck out on his own, he wound up on a retainer for the ITU, which merged in the 1980s with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), becoming its Printing Publishing & Media Workers sector.

After The Newspaper Guild (TNG) merged with CWA (creating TNG Canada in 1995), the old ITU Locals north of the U.S. border agreed to merge with TNG Canada, "provided Nelson be kept on as legal counsel" for the Canadian union, says Esposti. "He knew our history, our contracts and the old ITU."

Cole was in on those merger talks before the deal became official in 1998. "I told them, 'I want Nelson and Esposti'," he says. "Every time I am in an argument, I know these guys have my back."

Roland recalls Jim Cole's case as being one of the first he did on the national level after being retained in 1992 by the CWA to look after the Canadian ITU Locals.

He describes it as "one of the more satisfying victories" of his career. Cole, he says, "is a nice guy and a great trade unionist."

The nice guy was a victim of a 'hatchet woman' the Irvings brought into the Saint John Telegraph, where she reduced the ranks of the composing room from more than 25 to five. Those were the days when newspapers in North America were evolving from hot to cold type and compositors were a dying breed.

Cole, these days known as a graphic designer (in advertising), says he was called in one night after finishing his shift and, in front of an armed security guard, was told by the hatchet woman that he was "all done."

"She thought that, if she got rid of me, she would get rid of the union," says Cole, who was on the Local's executive at the time.

It took 18 months, but Roland won the wrongful dismissal case. Cole, who had to work as a prison guard in the interim to support his family, was reinstated with full back pay, seniority and pension.

"He's a great, great lawyer," enthuses Cole. "But he's also such a great person. I always look forward to seeing him. He puts a smile on my face."

Arnold Amber, who has been Director of the Canadian union since it was created in 1995, says: "I realize that it's a hackneyed phrase to say that Nelson will be sorely missed, but in this case, it's really true."

Nearly everyone in a position of leadership in the union has benefitted from Roland's abilities, says Amber.

"He has provided a really amazing service. Over the years, in addition to taking on legal cases, he has consulted with presidents of Locals that have encountered some type of difficulty and given them good quality advice."

Roland is to be fêted at a dinner April 18 during the spring meeting of the National Representative Council in Ottawa.

An American who was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Roland earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in his home state before coming to Canada in the fall of 1973 to attend the University of Toronto, "a superb school for philosophy." He did his master's degree in nine months, "the shortest time possible."

He returned to Iowa for a while and then "went off to New York City for several months and drove a cab there." By the fall of 1975, he was back at U of T to start on his PhD when he met Judith, a Quebecker who was doing a master's degree in psychology. While working on his thesis in 1979, Roland started law school and "I married a very smart woman."

Judith not only earned a PhD in psychology, she went on to get a medical degree and today has an extensive family practice in Oakville, Ont. Their three sons — Raymond, 26; Nicholas, 23; and Francis, 17 — are all on track for professional careers.

Roland has forged a reputation at CWA Canada as a highly intelligent lawyer who has a calm — and calming — demeanour. The philosopher has been very much in evidence in many of the cases he has handled.

Not only that, says Esposti, the man "has the patience of Job."

"Aside from the fact he's a very good lawyer, I consider him a personal friend." And, "we think alike on what this business is about."

While the "business" of media unions was attractive to Roland, it has more often been his interests and activities outside of the legal realm — and the stories they generate — that many CWA Canada members find so endearing.

"The greatest love besides his family is his motorcycle," declares Jim Cole.

Roland says he has long had a passion for motorcycling. He acknowledges that his family worries about the risks he's taking when he heads out on his BMW, but he sees it as a type of therapy: "It may not be good for the physical health, but it's good for the mental health."

He is not averse to getting about on his own two legs, however: Hiking in the back country of the Rocky Mountains and other wilderness areas is a favourite leisure activity. Roland says a side benefit of travelling extensively on union business was the opportunity to explore so much of Canada.

There is, however, another aspect of Nelson Roland that's not so well known to CWA Canada members. Long before he was called to the bar in the early Eighties, he was pursuing another calling, one which these days might occasionally place him in a bar.

From a fledgling teenage flautist he advanced to become an alto saxophonist, who now does big-band-era gigs as one of the 12 members of the Memory Lane Orchestra.

Were he to reveal his musical talents with a performance on the evening he's saluted by delegates to the rep council, it surely would be a most bittersweet swan song.

Photo: Memory Lane Orchestra
Nelson Roland, second from right in front row, plays alto saxophone in the Memory Lane Orchestra.