British Columbia

Portland Hotel Society boss resigns as payroll chaos dogs employees

The executive director of the Portland Hotel Society is resigning after less than two years on the job, as struggles continue with a new payroll system that has consistently delivered inaccurate payments.

Outgoing executive director Jennifer Breakspear says resignation not related to payment issues plaguing staff

Long-time community activist Jennifer Breakspear is resigning as executive director of the Portland Hotel Society after less than two years on the job. (breakspear.ca)

The executive director of the Portland Hotel Society is resigning after less than two years on the job, as struggles continue with a new payroll system that has consistently delivered inaccurate payments.

Some PHS workers, along with their union representatives from CUPE 1004, say the payroll system has been malfunctioning for months, leading to financial insecurity, bounced rent cheques, non-sufficient fund fees from banking institutions and hours spent in the PHS payroll offices trying to get the money owed them.

"Some folks are potentially on the verge of losing their homes because of repeated errors in payroll, " said Cupe 1004 president Andrew Ledger.

"It pushes people that are already close to the tipping point past the tipping point, especially in a city like Vancouver where we know there's a housing crisis and an affordability crisis, and our members are making just pennies above what the living wage is, so there's not a lot of wiggle room or savings that people can rely on. It's a crisis situation for a lot of our members."

According to the union, at least 50 employees have been affected. 

Outgoing executive director Jennifer Breakspear would not explain the reason for her departure, but says it's unrelated to the payroll problems.

Breakspear has promised that PHS will not only fix the payment issues, but that it will also help employees who have been inconvenienced by the continuing glitches.

 "I advised staff last night that we will pay any NSF fees that staff might incur. We'll provide letters of explanation for landlords, and I will personally call and explain to any landlords of employees who might come up short on rent as a result," she wrote in a text message. 

Problems with new payment system

PHS says the payment problems stem from a switch from an old payment system to a new one provided by human resources company Ceridian. The organization says the payroll department has been working hard to resolve the issues, but with little progress.

"We are communicating directly with affected staff to resolve specific issues and make them whole," said PHS spokesperson Akeena Legall. 

"We are bringing a Ceridian support specialist on site to evaluate and troubleshoot any issues with the software. We have also provided additional staffing support for payroll and scheduling. Human resources and accounting staff are cutting cheques for all staff who have been underpaid."

CUPE 1004's Andrew Ledger doesn't think PHS's level of concern has matched the stress the payroll system is causing members. 

"There have been some efforts made, but not nearly enough. They haven't taken this seriously, as far as I'm concerned, or else they would've made much more meaningful efforts to address the situation," Ledger said. 

"And the problem seems to be getting worse, not better, which is another serious concern for all of us."

None of the employees the CBC spoke to for this story would go on the record for fear of contravening PHS's media policy and receiving a reprimand from the organization. 

The Portland Hotel Society is a community services society that manages 22 low-barrier housing properties consisting of more than 1,500 units of housing in Vancouver and Victoria.

Between its properties and services, it reaches approximately 13,000 clients. 

PHS has an annual budget of $41.9 million which is provided mostly by Vancouver Coastal Health, B.C. Housing and the Vancouver Island Health Authority. 

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