British Columbia

Union complaint reveals park board employee's allegations of workplace harassment

One of two female employees in an allegedly 'male-dominated' workplace complained to the Labour Relations Board about her union's handling of harassment complaints.

Labour Relations Board decision claims male employee was fired and investigated by police for threats

A member of the Vancouver Park Board's urban forestry crew claimed a fired co-worker sent her threatening anonymous text messages. (Igor Stevanovic/Shutterstock)

Editor's noteA previous version of this story named the woman who complained to the Labour Relations Board. The CBC has elected to remove her name in respect of concerns about workplace safety.

A Labour Relations Board complaint filed by one of two female members of a mostly male Vancouver Park Board crew details allegations of workplace harassment and bullying.

The woman went to the LRB to complain about her union's handling of what she called "a culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination among its membership."

The board ultimately concluded the woman's union — the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1004 — had acted fairly.

But the case raises questions about events, including a Vancouver police investigation, into an employee who allegedly sent threatening anonymous text messages in 2017 after he was fired for drinking on the job.

The same man was allegedly disciplined the year before for sending sexually explicit text messages.

'Unwelcome and undervalued'

The woman started working for the park board in 2004 and has been a tree care worker with the Urban Forestry Department since February 2016.

"The Complainant advises she is one of only two women out of a staff of approximately 60 workers," the LRB's decision says. 

"She describes the workplace as 'male-dominated' and says that although she expected to encounter some behaviours that could be deemed offensive, she felt confident she possessed the tools and self-awareness to deal with them."

A Labour Relations Board decision raises questions about allegations of harassment levied by a member of the urban forestry department. (CBC)

According to the decision, she claimed a co-worker "began to send unwelcome sexually suggestive text messages to her personal phone" in December 2015.

"When she confronted him directly, he blamed his behaviour on drug and alcohol use," the decision reads.

"(She) then transferred to her new role where she experienced lewd behaviour and language in the department and was made to feel unwelcome and undervalued."

The woman claimed the sexually explicit messages began again around March 2016.

"This time she reported the incident to management, who took what she described as a 'light-handed approach' to disciplining the harasser," the decision says.

"The complainant says following this event she and her other female co-worker were increasingly ostracized and the behaviour of the harasser became increasingly belligerent."

The woman claimed the man was fired in 2017 after she witnessed him consuming alcohol at work and she and others  reported the incident to management.  

She said she subsequently received threatening text messages, which she claims police traced back to the fired worker.

The woman told the LRB she overheard others call her a "rat" and was subjected to "months of mistreatment from her co-workers."

She asked for a meeting with a union representative after allegedly dealing with the backlash both directly and through a shop steward.

'Harassment, intimidation and threats'

The woman claimed she told the union representative she wanted to meet "to present allegations of drug and alcohol use in the workplace, and that she was motivated by a recent fatal workplace accident and also general workplace safety."

The comment appears to be a reference to the tragic 2016 workplace death of the woman's co-worker and friend, Jody Taylor. The 43-year-old arborist was killed while trimming a branch on a catalpa tree in Connaught Park.

The woman who filed the Labour Relations Board complaint claimed she was inspired to take action against dangerous workplace behaviour after the death of friend and co-worker Jody Taylor in March 2016. (Supplied by family)

The woman claimed the union representative told her she should have complained about the co-worker's alcohol consumption to the union instead of management.

She also said she and her female co-worker went on to meet with the both the union president and a national representative, which left her feeling encouraged.

But she later learned that another co-worker had filed a complaint against her.

"[She] does not include any details about this complaint except to state that, at a company meeting, the co-worker continued the harassment and ostracism she had been experiencing, and she called him out on his hurtful behaviour," the LRB decision says. 

"She accuses the Union of assisting the co-worker by using the complaint process against her."

'A safe and respectful workplace'

In a statement, deputy park board general manager Shauna Wilton noted that the LRB did not request any submissions from the union or the city in dismissing the woman's complaint.

She also said that the board does not comment publicly on employment matters.

"The Park Board takes its obligations to maintain a safe and respectful workplace for all staff very seriously and works diligently with its unions and employees to achieve that goal," Wilton said.

The VPD also declined to comment further on the police investigation referenced in the decision, saying it would not be appropriate to comment on a labour board matter.

In dismissing the woman's complaint, LRB vice-chair Andres Barker said alleged lack of union support was contradicted by a summary of events that included meetings with members of the national executive.

He also said that allegations the union had discriminated against her in violation of its own code of conduct were better pursued through the union's internal complaint process.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story named Shauna Wilton as the deputy park board chair. She is, in fact, the deputy park board general manager.
    Jul 18, 2018 3:51 PM PT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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