09/09/2013 06:06 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

Unions haggle over Ontario man's disability benefits

A central Ontario man will be in small claims court in Oshawa, Ont., Tuesday seeking unpaid disability benefits from his former union.

Bill Ellins, 67, says he was denied his short-term and long-term disability benefits in 2009 after he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder.

Ellins worked for 44 years in the car shipping industry, first as a car jockey and later as a bus driver. He said he was rarely sick and rarely missed a day of work.

Then Ellins, who also spent his evenings taking care of cattle on his farm in Lindsay, Ont., fell ill in August 2009. He was later diagnosed with Wegener's disease, which attacks the blood vessels.

"I got real sick," said Ellins. "Sick enough they didn't think I was going to make it."

One month later, in September, Ellins decided to stop working and apply to the Teamsters for his disability benefits.

But his union, the Teamsters, was voted out on Aug. 31, 2009, and the Canadian Auto Workers was asked to take over.

Ellins said the Teamsters denied the claim for disability benefits and told him to apply to his new union, the CAW.

Blocked by loophole

But when Ellins applied to the CAW, he said he was told he had a medical condition prior to the switchover and he did not qualify for coverage.

"There was a five-day window there that I just happened to get sick and according to them, that's where I fell in," said Ellins.

"It was before we officially became CAW and there was a five-day window that I got caught in which left me with absolutely no benefits."

In 2010, the CAW took the Teamsters to small claims court on behalf of Ellins to seek the disability payment.

In the most recent statement of claim, the CAW is asking for $16,042.74 in unpaid short-term and long-term disability benefits.

The Teamsters refused to comment because the case is still before the courts. A lawyer for the CAW was not available to comment.

Case bounces around with no answers

For the past four years, Ellins has waited as the case bounced between small claims court, arbitration and labour relations boards, before returning to small claims court.

During that time, he has still struggled with his health and his finances. He spent three years on dialysis and had two kidney transplants.

"For six months when there was no benefits paid for, holy suffering, you have no idea how you can go through money; it is just like water. You start, just turn on the tap and it just goes," Ellins said.

Leslie Ellins said she and her husband were forced to dip into savings, delay retirement plans and eventually sell their farm to downsize into a small bungalow.

"All of a sudden it went up in smoke. I just kept thinking somebody is making a mistake, this isn’t true … I still couldn't believe that actually could happen that way," Leslie said.

The couple hopes the court date will bring a resolution to the matter as they refuse to give up their fight.

"At some point in time, surely to God, somebody will see the daylight because I am entitled to it and they owe it to me. All they [have] to do is write a little cheque," Bill said.

"It won't break them — won't even hurt them — [and it] will make a hell of a difference to me."

The case will be heard in Durham Region small claims court Tuesday.