OPSEU suing Warren 'Smokey' Thomas, 2 other former execs for more than $6M in damages

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas speaks to reporters at Queens Park in Toronto, on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Thomas is among three former executives OPSEU is suing for more than $6 million. (Chris Young/Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas speaks to reporters at Queens Park in Toronto, on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Thomas is among three former executives OPSEU is suing for more than $6 million. (Chris Young/Canadian Press - image credit)

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is suing three former executives for more than $6 million, alleging the three enriched themselves unjustly using the union's money and assets.

In a statement on the union's website, OPSEU president J.P, Hornick said the lawsuit names former president Warren "Smokey" Thomas, former first vice-president/treasurer Eduardo Almeida and Maurice Gabay, former administrator of the union's financial services division.

A statement of claim was filed on Monday in Ontario Superior Court. In it, the union says it is seeking to recover $5.75 million it alleges was unlawfully transferred to Thomas, Almeida and Gabay, as well as over $6 million more in damages.

The statement alleges Thomas and Almeida took action that prompted the union to:

  • Pay themselves "significant compensation to which they were not entitled."

  • Pay "significant expenses on their behalf for undocumented and non- business related purposes."

  • Transfer union assets, specifically vehicles, to themselves or to family members.

  • Pay cash from the union's strike fund to themselves and Gabay for "undocumented and illegitimate purposes."

  • Enter into agreements that were "inappropriate, unreasonable and improvident" with the aim of enriching themselves or others at the union's expense.

The allegations have not been tested in court. CBC Toronto has so far been unable to reach the three former executives named in the suit.

OPSEU says it represents 180,000 workers employed by the Ontario government, community colleges, the LCBO, health care sector and in community agencies in the broader public sector.

The statement of claim notes that Thomas served as president for seven terms over 15 years,  while Almeida was first vice-president/treasurer for five terms over 11 years. Thomas retired in April 2022, while Almeida resigned in July of the same year.

As for Gabay, the statement of claim notes he was the union's accountant in its financial services division from 2008 to 2015, then was promoted to administrator of its financial services division until his position was terminated in April 2022.

OPSEU says in the statement of claim that the three breached their duties to the union.

"They abused the power and authority that the Union's membership bestowed upon them and violated the trust that the Union's membership placed in them year after year, election after election," it reads.

The union alleges the financial misconduct took the form of improper compensation and payouts, improper expenses, transfer of vehicles, cash withdrawals from its strike fund, "wholly inappropriate, unreasonable and improvident" settlement agreements that benefited Thomas and Almeida.

The union said it seeks recovery of all of the funds and assets misappropriated by the three.


According to the statement of claim, Thomas received a salary of $142,740 and Almeida was paid $131,322 in 2021. In addition, the union says it learned that the two received payouts for "lieu days," designed to compensate for working on the weekend or statutory holidays. The amounts totalled $399,472 for Thomas and $281,275 for Almeida from 2017 to 2022, totals to which they were not entitled, according to the union.

The union alleges that the three racked up "significant" expenses on their corporate credit cards, which the union paid on their behalf. From 2019 until they left in 2022, Thomas had charges totalling $136,015, Almeida had charges totalling $1,361,716, including $15,500 in a cash advance, and Gabay incurred charges totalling $176,556.

OPSEU's statement of claim alleges union money was used to pay the home repairs and moving expenses for someone with whom Gabay had a personal relationship.

The statemen also alleges that ownership of vehicles, registered to the union, were transferred to themselves, family members or acquaintances. In March 2022, before Thomas left the union, OPSEU transferred ownership of a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, which the union had purchased in August 2021 for $97,417, to Thomas.

Earlier, in July 2019, November 2017, and May 2017, three other vehicles bought by the union, a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan, a 2015 Dodge Durango and a 2014 Chrysler 200 were all transferred to Thomas's wife, Valerie Thomas.

'Sunlight is the best disinfectant,' president says

In the website statement, Hornick said the news is "troubling," but "sunlight is the best disinfectant" and the union is pursuing legal action to inform its members about current issues facing the union. She called the lawsuit "just a first step."

The statement of claim follows a forensic audit into the union's finances after a new board was elected in April, she said. Hornick said she and the new first vice-president/ treasurer looked at the union's current financial position. That included reviewing contracts, financial statements and its books.

"Through that process, numerous concerns came to light that required further third-party scrutiny," Hornick said.


The union then hired a forensic auditor, a third party who would look at who might have been involved and how it affected the union's finances.

"This information has been crucial in helping us make the right decisions about what steps to take next, and most importantly how we stop this from ever happening again. Where abnormalities have been found, they have been addressed swiftly," she said.

"We will continue to act and work collaboratively with the appropriate authorities. We will update you to the fullest extent we are able as things unfold."

Hornick added that the union's financial resources remain stable and it has the funds to continue to do its job of representing members.and that OPSEU is committed to investigating its financial situation.

"I want to be clear to you, our staff and members, and the people of Ontario who we dutifully serve, that we will not waiver in our commitment to seeking justice in this matter, and we have the full support of the board to pursue all available legal avenues."

Daniel Lublin, founding partner of Whitten and Lublin Employment Lawyers in Toronto, said the allegations sound "scandalous."

But Lublin, who isn't representing any of the parties in the case, cautioned that so far, only one side of the story has been presented.

"They have to prove the damages they're seeking in front of a court. A judge has to accept, first of all, that the defendants broke some law or some obligations owed to the employer, and second, that the amounts the union claims are owed are in fact the correct amount."