Union discriminated against women who filed sexual harassment claims: Sask. Labour Board

Three women who worked at the City of Regina landfill were discriminated against by their union based on their gender, the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board has found.

'Series of disturbing incidents' caused 3 women to leave jobs at Regina landfill

A decision from the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board suggests CUPE Local 21 was more concerned about making sure male workers at Regina's landfill didn't endure discipline for harassment than the fact that three women who worked there had been driven from the workplace. (CBC)

Three women who worked at the City of Regina landfill were discriminated against by their union based on their gender, the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board has found.

The labour board's decision, dated Oct. 3, came in the wake of the women's sexual harassment complaints against a group of male co-workers, related to incidents dating back as far as 2013.

The women — none of whom work at the landfill anymore — were employed by the City of Regina at its landfill site and part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 21, the union that represents outside city workers. 

"The Board is left in little doubt that CUPE Local 21 treated the Applicants' Harassment Grievance differently from the male respondents, and did so on the basis of their gender," labour relations board vice-chairperson Graeme Mitchell wrote in the decision.

The decision suggested the local union was more concerned about making sure the men didn't endure discipline for the harassment, than the fact that the women had been driven from the workplace.

"This is a sad case," Mitchell's decision says.

He said in the decision the local union failed to support the women while they were extremely vulnerable, noting even that was an understatement. However, the decision said that even though the union's actions were inadequate, the union did not act in bad faith or malice.

Toxic workplace

The women filed 41 complaints against five male co-workers in accordance with the city's harassment policy at the beginning of 2014.

One of the women testified that she was frustrated because she felt harassed out of a job, while the people she alleged harassed her "were still employed by the City and she was unable to continue working. "

The women testified that "the Landfill was a toxic workplace," and one described it as a "very threatening place to be."

The report doesn't detail the exact nature of the sexual harassment, but does allude to some of its aftermath.  A "series of disturbing incidents" left at least two of the women fearing for their physical safety, the decision says.

All three women later endured a variety of medical conditions, "including post-traumatic stress disorder flowing from the harassment they experienced at the hands of their co-workers at the Landfill site," the decision says.

How the city handled it

An investigator was brought on by the city look into the women's complaints. The investigation found that they had, in fact, been sexually harassed by male members of the same bargaining unit. 

In March 2014, one of the women contacted the then-president of CUPE Local 21 to say she decided to file a harassment complaint. She testified he asked her not to, indicating the alleged harasser was a personal friend and that it would be more effective for him to speak to the employee himself.

Mitchell said it "may have been appropriate" for the union to wait for the findings of the investigation, "but once those findings were revealed to the parties there was no meaningful communications between CUPE Local 21 and the Applicant."

Respectful workplace policy

​The women settled their grievances with the city prior to the release of the labour board decision, said J.P. Cullen, the City of Regina's executive director of organization and people.

He said the city doesn't have a position on the decision, because the matter concerned former city employees and the union that once represented them, rather than the city.

Furthermore, Cullen said he wouldn't comment on what happened with the city because it was a personnel matter. He said there have been a number of changes within the city departments since the 2014 incidents.

"We have instituted a respectful workplace policy that includes mandatory training for all employees," he said, adding the city has also introduced another level of training for supervisors and managers to help them "build a more respectful workplace with their employees."

Cullen said the harassment policy was updated in 2015 and a corporate mental health strategy has been implemented to work toward a more "psychologically safe" workspace.

He called what happened a "bad situation" and said the city has learned from it, adding the new measures are indirectly connected to what happened.

With files from Andreanne Apablaza