White-collar union files respectful-workplace grievance over call to 'punish' Sterling Lyon Parkway planner

The union representing white-collar City of Winnipeg workers has filed a respectful workplace complaint against the city over a call to punish a transportation planner and other comments made at a public meeting.

WAPSO upset with Coun. Morantz and CAO Doug McNeil over comments made at public meeting about Scott Suderman

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil addresses council's public works committee on Oct. 31. The Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers has filed a respectful workplace complaint against the city for statements made about city staff at that meeting. (CBC)

The union representing white-collar City of Winnipeg workers has filed a respectful workplace complaint against the city over a call to punish a transportation planner and other comments made at a public meeting.

On Oct. 31, public works committee chair Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) lambasted Winnipeg's public works department for its decision to support a road-extension route that calls for the expropriation of all or part of 48 farms and residential properties in the South Wilkes neighbourhood.

"This in my view was a ridiculous attempt to extend Sterling Lyon Parkway through a residential area. It never should have happened," Morantz said, before calling on the city to remove transportation planner Scott Suderman from the project.

At the same meeting, Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said the city never should have endorsed the route in question, which was forwarded to the province for environmental approval before residents were aware of where it would go.

"On this mistake, we had a serious misstep in the process and I truly apologize on behalf of the public service," McNeil said.

Three days later, Suderman informed the city his intention to resign at the end of November.

On Thursday, the Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers — which represents 739 city professionals such as planners, lawyers, engineers and middle managers — filed a labour grievance over what the union describes as disrespect of an employee.

WAPSO wants an apology from both the public service and council and is also demanding the city uphold its own respectful workplace policy, executive director Dee Gillies said.

Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge Coun. Marty Morantz implored South Wilkes residents to cheer him on during the Oct. 31 public works committee meeting, during which he called on the city to remove transportation planner Scott Suderman from the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension file. (Trevor Brine/CBC)
"To call out a civic servant publicly like that, without that person being able to defend themselves, was offensive," Gillies said Thursday in an interview.

"Worse than that, our feeling is the administration is supposed to be the buffer between the employees and the councillors and there was no robust defence of that employee or that member at that time

"There's no justice allowed in that. We have somebody literally calling publicly to punish somebody without even finding out the facts."

Gillies said while she has not spoken to Suderman about his decision to resign, she is certain the comments made at the Oct. 31 meeting contributed to his decision to leave the city.

She said numerous city employees called to complain about his treatment and said the disrespect of public servants has become "a systemic issue" at city hall, for members of all unions.

City, councillors decline to address allegation

"We have been made aware of the grievance filed by WAPSO and will be following the grievance process outlined in the collective agreement." Winnipeg communications director Felicia Wiltshire said via email in a statement.

Morantz issued a near-identical statement.

Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma, who told Morantz his comments were inappropriate during the Oct. 31 meeting, declined to comment. North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, who also sat as a member of public works committee during that meeting, also declined to comment.

Fellow committee member Matt Allard (St. Boniface) was not available to comment.

The day after the meeting, CBC News asked Mayor Brian Bowman whether he believed the CAO is doing a sufficient job protecting the integrity of the public service from the whims of elected officials.

"Members of council representing the citizens of this great city have a job to do to try to deliver the best results for Winnipeggers. There's going to be times where they're going to voice their concerns in a public way, as you saw yesterday," the mayor said.

Bowman called Morantz "a strong voice for the citizens of his ward" who is going to stand up for those citizens.

"[Councillors] have the right to stand up for their constituents," Gillies said. "I have no problem with that. But nobody has the right to be so disrespectful."

Gillies said Winnipeg's labour-relations staff have 15 days to respond to the grievance.