Winnipeg Labour Council head stepping down after alleged 'degrading and disgusting' remarks

The president of the Winnipeg Labour Council says she plans to resign after alleging her male colleagues in the labour movement bullied her, made sexist remarks and pressured her to quit.

Labour council president Basia Sokal says she was subjected to intimidating, insulting and vulgar remarks

Basia Sokal says she will resign from her role as president of the Winnipeg Labour Council, after enduring what she said were 'degrading and disgusting' remarks from people within the labour movement. (CBC)

WARNING: This story contains language that may be offensive.

The president of the Winnipeg Labour Council says she plans to resign, alleging her male colleagues in the labour movement bullied her, made sexist remarks and pressured her to quit.

Basia Sokal told a room full of local labour representatives on Tuesday, when she announced her plans to leave, that her complaints to individual union leaders and executives, as well as the provincial Opposition NDP, fell on deaf ears.

"In the last 12 months alone I have seen and heard and been experiencing some of the worst things that you could ever imagine that anybody would experience in the labour movement," Sokal said at a Tuesday labour council meeting at the Union Centre building on Broadway.

Rank & File Radio, a weekly show that airs on CKUW — the campus radio station based at the University of Winnipeg — posted audio Wednesday of Sokal's statement, which the show said was recorded at the meeting and shared online with her permission.

"It breaks my heart that I feel I need to tell you this, but we need to do better," Sokal said in the recording.

"As a woman in this role, I feel that I was basically tapped so that I could be told what to do, because it would look good to have a female president at the head."

Sokal has been president of the labour council since January 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She told her peers at Tuesday's meeting she had about six pages of "degrading and disgusting" remarks made to her to share, before reading some of them.

'You women are all the same'

The alleged comments she read included pressure to tell her executive how to vote and intimidating remarks, such as "Let me tell you a story about what happened to the last person that didn't agree with us."

She says her competency was also questioned, alleging she was told she was "just nuts" and that she should "Let us just handle it.… We've been doing this longer than you've been alive."

There were also suggestions that she should quit. "You women are all the same. If you don't like what's going on, why don't you just leave?" was another alleged remark she read.

Some of the remarks were vulgar, she said at the end of her list of comments.

"I'm not going to go much further after this one because it does get worse, but, 'nice tits,'" was one such comment, she said.

Sokal was a letter carrier for Canada Post when she joined the Winnipeg Labour Council. (CBC)

In the recording from the meeting, a man in the room can be heard shouting at Sokal, telling her to identify the people who made the comments by name. She refused, and remained mum on names of leaders she alleges dismissed her complaints when contacted by CBC News Wednesday morning.

"I'm not comfortable calling out unions. That's not fair in my opinion. The issue is with some at the executive and leadership level," she said in a Facebook message to CBC News.

She declined to do an on-air interview.

MGEU wants investigation

Sokal said when she complained to the provincial NDP last December, she was told the party didn't have a policy for harassment and was redirected to the federal office.

The only reason she was able to make a complaint to the federal NDP, she said, was "because of a specific person that sat on a committee with me at the federal level [who] was involved in some of the harassment and bullying," she said in the Facebook message to CBC News.

"The NDP takes all harassment complaints seriously," a federal party spokesperson said in an email to CBC Wednesday night.

"We received this complaint and we're looking into it. Harassment is unacceptable, period," the statement said. "We [thank] Basia for her time and work on council and wish her the best."

Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said on Facebook Wednesday she was proud of Sokal for speaking out.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which is one of the labour council's affiliated unions, called the issues Sokal has raised very serious.

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said in a statement the appropriate way to address the allegations is for the Canadian Labour Congress to conduct a full investigation.

"I understand that this will be happening in short order, and I fully support that," she said.

Labour council not investigating

The labour congress — an umbrella organization the Winnipeg Labour Council is affiliated with — told CBC News it is not investigating the allegations because it has not received a complaint from Sokal.

"I can confirm for sure that an investigative process has not yet started because we have not yet received a complaint," said Darla Deguire, the Prairie regional director for the Canadian Labour Congress.

She spoke with CBC News on the phone from Lethbridge, Alta., Wednesday afternoon before boarding a flight to Winnipeg for a meeting she said was pre-planned and unrelated to Sokal's announcement.

Michelle Gawronsky said the Canadian Labour Congress needs to conduct a full investigation into the matter. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"We take the issues and allegations very seriously that Ms. Sokal has brought forward. We just learned of the resignation through public statements and in the mainstream media," she said.

"It was shocking, to say the least, and there is absolutely no room for this — for bullying, harassment, intimidation, all of that," Deguire said.

"We have to take it seriously and we have to stand up against it."

'Should not be happening in this movement'

Sokal told her colleagues it was exhausting to be in a position where she felt she had to gloss over problems, and encouraged them to speak up in those situations.

"It should not be happening in this movement.… We are the people, in this room, that fight against these injustices," she said.

"We fight to do better, but we're not when this is happening right here in our own walls," Sokal said.

"I can't understand in 2019 why we are OK with calling out governments on their actions and what they're doing, but we are a part of this and we are not stopping it."

A request for comment to remaining leadership at the Winnipeg Labour Council was not immediately returned Wednesday.