Edmonton

Distrust lingers as City of Edmonton tackles harassment complaints

City of Edmonton staff and union leaders are reluctant to trust the city’s revised harassment and discrimination strategy, councillors heard Thursday.

'Dedicated, loyal, and now broken,' employee tells city councillors

Since January, third-party consultant Deloitte has received 235 complaints about workplace harassment within the City of Edmonton. (CBC)

City of Edmonton staff and union leaders are reluctant to trust the city's revised harassment and discrimination strategy, councillors heard Thursday.

Darlene Woodham has worked for the city for 39 years and is one of eight employees involved in a harassment claim after they filed a complaint against a manager in the accounts payable department in 2017.

She attended the executive committee meeting to share her story about the ongoing struggle at work. 

"I want to tell you that all eight of us are long-term, dedicated, loyal and now broken staff," she said on behalf of the complainants.

Woodham and her colleagues filed the complaint in Nov. 8, 2017, and the manager was removed two months later. 
Darlene Woodham told the executive committee she gets calls from other city of Edmonton employees worried about the complaints process. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

"Lots of disrespect," she said of her former manager. "It was her way or the highway. There was loud voices, there was bad language — asked a question and not allowed to give the answer."

She said other city employees contact her regularly to ask whether the process has improved.

"Employees still do not trust HR or the city to deal with harassment issues," she said.

A third-party consultant, Deloitte, was hired in January not long after an audit showed one in five of the 12,000 employees in 2016 said they had been harassed or discriminated against.  

As of January, the company had received 235 complaints: 41 are being investigated; 75 are being assessed. The company's report shows 89 were closed without investigation and eight were found to be unsubstantiated.

Deloitte made eight recommendations to the city on how it can improve its corporate culture, including alternatives to resolving disputes, training for managers and staff and ways to restore trust.

Redacted documents

Union leaders say they are frustrated because they can't see the full results of the investigations.  

Lanny Chudyk, president of Civic Service Union local 52, which represents about 4,200 employees, said a lot of the information is blacked out.

"We expect process to be transparent and open, it's not," Chudyk told the executive committee Thursday.

He cited one case where a member said they received their report, which found their complaint was unsubstantiated, and wasn't able to see all the information.

The member told him, "I've got one and half lines of sentence I can read here. I'm not even sure this is my own investigative report."

Chudyk said employees feel they have no choice but to go through the grievance-arbitration process. 
Lanny Chudyk, president of civic service union local 52, right of his labour manager Joe Childs, tells councillors the complaints process and investigation are not transparent.

The union is dealing with 330 grievances, a more expensive and lengthy way of resolving a complaint, he said.

The city said it's obliged to redact information based on privacy laws. Each person named in the report — complainants, accused, and witnesses — is required to waive their privacy rights before their information can be revealed.

Many complainants are reluctant to do that, because it would expose their identities to those they're accusing, Chudyk said, and they fear repercussions.

The process is also frustrating for councillors, who heard about the legalities behind the decisions.

"The unions are saying they don't trust the process," Coun. Mike Nickel said. "They're not even sure if the process is fair or transparent, because so much has been redacted.

"Do we not see a problem here?" Nickel asked.

"Yes, we do," city manager Linda Cochrane replied. "We've seen today that it has affected the trust, in that we haven't been able to share that information and that's made them suspect in other areas."
Mayor Don Iveson, left, and Coun. Mike Nickel question staff about the legal requirements of redacting personal information from investigative reports. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The executive committee accepted Deloitte's reports. Mayor Don Iveson said he regrets that not all employees feel safe in the workplace.  

"It's hard to hear that that isn't the case for everybody," he told the committee. "I appreciate that a tremendous amount of work has been done internally and with external help to try to shift that."

​Cochrane sai​d the city is working to implement the eight recommendations Deloitte made.

She also pledged to develop an appeal process for employees who are not satisfied with investigations into their complaints.

Deloitte's contract as a third-party investigator runs until January 2019.

@natashariebe

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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