'The damage is done': dismissive note posted by supervisors at city of Hamilton

Union representatives are unhappy with a sign posted on the supervisor's office door at the city of Hamilton. It says "behind this door lies more work" and instructs workers to dial their extension number if they want to speak.

Roads department has 'worst morale,' says CUPE representative

This sign was posted on the door of the supervisors' office in the roads and maintenance department at the city of Hamilton's Jones Road yard.

"Beyond this door lies more work."

That's the message some city of Hamilton public works employees get if they want to speak with their supervisors. CBC News obtained a photo of the sign that was posted on the office door of a supervisor of roads operations and maintenance at the Jones Road yard. 

The words appear in all capitals and are emblazoned with yellow highlighter. Another sign below instructs the reader to dial the supervisor's extension from a phone located in the lunch room if they want to contact them. 

Union representatives aren't impressed with the brush-off.

Barry Conway, vice president of the outdoor unit at CUPE Local 5167, told CBC that the sign was up for "quite some time" and only taken down on Monday. He says the sign creates a "culture of negativity." 

"[The implication is] if you come to us, we're going to add more work to you," said Conway. "You're basically told, no, we don't want you in here and don't come bother us."

While workers see their supervisors in the morning and at the end of the day for work orders, the lack of communication throughout the day means that those with questions are often left confused. Conway said that the instruction to call the supervisors ultimately indicates that there is no open door policy. 

This just helps highlight why that morale is so low- Barry Conway, CUPE Local 5167

Jasmine Graham, a communications officer for public works, confirmed that the sign has been removed and that the city is looking into the situation. She also added that "if supervisors are inside their offices, they are encouraged to leave their doors open so staff can reach them if/when they need to." 

Conway also added that workers with health and safety concerns may not feel comfortable coming to the office because of this sign. But taking the sign down doesn't change what's been done. In terms of sending a message to employees, Conway says the "damage is done."

A workplace survey four years ago revealed that many workers in the public work yards felt disrespected by Management. The city scored lower than 99 per cent of other companies.

Roads department has 'worst morale'

The sign is another faux-pas for a department with a heavy history of scandals and low morale.  

Conway, who represents all of Hamilton's outdoor workers, said he believes that the roads department has the worst morale of them all. 

"This just helps highlight why that morale is so low," he said. "You've had all this money spent...and the results of it is that people are being pushed away." 

He pointed out that in previous years, the city had hired consultants to address the negative work culture and survey employees. Despite the outreach, people still feel that they "don't have a voice." 

A workplace survey four years ago revealed the haggard state of the department's work-culture. A city-hired consultant surveyed 371 workers, many of whom felt disrespected by management. 

Workers expressed concerns about low morale and that inexperienced people were being promoted, some of them due to nepotism.  

"Not one day in the last five years of work I have not dreaded going to work," one worker wrote.

"There is nothing positive within our workplace," another wrote. "Everyone is very sad."  

The city scored lower than 99 per cent of other companies that had been surveyed. But Coun. Sam Merulla, then-chair of the public works committee, called the survey "fiction" and "not scientifically sound." 

Employees are instructed to phone supervisors in order to speak to them. Conway said that these extra steps prevent frontline staff from fixing errors.

Other scandals have rocked the department. 

In 2013, the city fired and suspended around 30 roads workers for allegations of time theft and breach of trust. After investigating, an arbitrator found that a "culture of low expectations" led to their misuse of time, and that it was a "failure of management." 

Some of these workers had been falsely incriminated by a city councillor who gave incorrect information to police. There was little evidence that the alleged crime — asphalt theft — had occurred, and employees felt their reputations had been damaged. 

with files from Samantha Craggs


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