Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

SGEU president chastised for 'egregious behaviour' against union members following independent investigation

A committee of the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU), which represents thousands of public employees, has ruled the union’s own president, Bob Bymoen, engaged in “the most egregious behavior that undermines our code of ethics, harassment policy, constitution, policy manual and union values.”

One SGEU committee suspended president Bob Bymoen for 2 years, another committee reversed that decision

SGEU president Bob Bymoen has been chastised by an SGEU committee for "egregious behaviour" toward a union member and staffer. (CBC)

A committee of the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) has ruled the union's own president has engaged in "the most egregious behaviour that undermines our code of ethics, harassment policy, constitution, policy manual and union values."

According to a June 19 email to president Bob Bymoen from the Membership Constitution & Legislation Committee (MC&L), obtained by CBC, an independent investigative report concluded Bymoen had attempted to threaten an SGEU staff member and attempted to "cause harm" to union member Arlen Nickel "as a result of your obvious dislike for this member."

As of right now, I'm still the president.- Bob Bymoen - president of SGEU

"Based on this report and prior unfounded complaints made by yourself against Mr. Nickel, the committee is recommending immediate suspension from all elected positions for a period of two years effective immediately," the committee wrote to Bymoen.

Since 2002, Bymoen has served as elected president of SGEU, which represents thousands of public workers.

Nickel, who serves as the union's chief steward at the Regina Correctional Centre, said that the committee's decision "shocked the hell out of me."

He said immediately after learning of the decision, he wrote to the committee to say it had restored his faith in the union.

"It blew my mind that they actually held him accountable," Nickel said in an interview with CBC.

But just hours after that decision was made, the SGEU's administration committee overturned it.

"Because there was no hearing, the MC&L committee suspending the president for two years effective immediately is hereby declared null and void and of no force and effect," says an internal SGEU email. 

The organization is trying to decide what to do next.

In an interview with CBC over the weekend, Bymoen said he's been denied natural justice and hopes to get a fair hearing.

"As of right now, I'm still the president," he said.

Nickel said no matter what is decided about discipline, the findings of the report will make it difficult for Bymoen to credibly scold an employer for failing to respect workers' rights.

"It's very hard for him to turn around now and say 'It's actually shameful for such-and-such an employer to treat this employee like this' when he's done it himself," said Nickel.

Bymoen filed complaint against Nickel

The dispute began in April when Bymoen launched a formal complaint claiming Nickel had harassed him at a public event.

The report explained Nickel had recently been terminated from his unionized job at the Regina Correctional Centre and at the event, Nickel said "he believed Bymoen was happy [Nickel] had been fired and that [Nickel] deserved to be fired."

Bymoen denied saying that and argued Nickel had smeared him and the union.

A Manitoba-based consulting firm investigated the matter, interviewing Bymoen, Nickel and two others.

It concluded "the evidence has substantiated that Mr Bymoen: made comments relating to Mr Nickel's termination and grievance to the effect that he wished Mr Nickel would stay fired, that Mr Nickel was told about these comments and that he repeated them in a public setting."

The investigator said Nickel wasn't at fault for repeating Bymoen's comments but Bymoen was at fault for making them.

"It definitely backfired on him," said Nickel.

Arlen Nickel, the SGEU's chief steward at the Regina Correctional Centre, says he's had an ongoing dispute with SGEU president Bob Bymoen. (Geoff Leo)

History of conflict

Nickel said was fired from his job as a jail guard at the Regina Correctional Centre last year after he shared a Facebook post his employer found inappropriate.  

Nickel appealed the decision.

He said his regular union rep wasn't available so he asked SGEU labour relations officer Kevin Yates to help. Yates is a former NDP MLA and cabinet minister. 

Yates declined CBC's request for an interview.

Nickel said that before Yates could agree to take the case, he had to get permission from Bymoen.  

Nickel said that's when Bymoen told Yates he wanted Nickel to stay fired.

The findings of this report are clear that was a wilful and deliberate attempt by yourself to harm a member of our union by attempting to threaten and undermine a staff member.- SGEU committee letter to Bob Bymoen

In commenting on this conversation, the report says "one witness stated that when Mr Nickel was terminated, Mr Bymoen came into his office and said, "he wanted me to not get Mr Nickel's job back or something to that effect." 

The report says the witness went on to say "he knew Mr Bymoen was angry and venting and he knew that Mr Bymoen knew that he (the witness) would do his job properly."

CBC has confirmed that witness is Yates. 

The report says that the witness then warned Nickel.

"The witness stated he told Mr Nickel that there were people in SGEU (including Mr Bymoen) who did not want him to get his job back," the report says.

Nickel, who has since been reinstated to his job, said he wasn't surprised.  

"Bob and I have had a very contentious relationship," said Nickel. "I challenge him on a lot of issues throughout the union. He does not like it."

The MC&L committee did not like what it saw in the independent report, and it told Bymoen as much in its letter to him.

"The evidence shows that you have intentionally used your position of power as president to influence and control a paid staff member to not represent a member of our union in order to cause harm to a member as a result of your obvious dislike for this member," the committee wrote.

"The findings of this report are clear that was a wilful and deliberate attempt by yourself to harm a member of our union by attempting to threaten and undermine a staff member."

SGEU says committee denied Bymoen 'natural justice'

The executive director of the SGEU, Bettyann Cox, told CBC the MC&L's decision to suspend Bymoen was overturned because it was deemed to be unfair.  

She said union rules require that there be a hearing before discipline is meted out.

"They would have to have the disclosure of witness statements and investigators report and all of that, so that they in turn would have the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses," she said.

In his interview with CBC, Bymoen agreed.

There's always union politics alive and well in every single union I've ever been involved with.- Bettyann Cox - SGEU executive director

"Whether it's myself or any member of our union, we're entitled to the principles of natural justice," he said.

He told CBC he should be able to see the full case against him and challenge it.

"I haven't had a chance to do that," he said.

CBC asked him to comment on the findings of the report and the MC&L letter.

Bymoen replied that "it's really hard for me to respond to that letter when I haven't seen the evidence to back up the letter." 

He added it's not appropriate to speak to a report that's supposed to be confidential.

Next steps

Cox said the SGEU's provincial council will be meeting this week and this item will be on the agenda.

She said the council will try to find a way to have a fair hearing process for all involved. But she said that will be difficult given that confidential documents about this internal dispute have become public.

She said publicity about this case has the potential to prejudice a fair and unbiased hearing.

"To me, that's problematic."

In her interview with CBC, she offered this caution.  

"There's always union politics alive and well in every single union I've ever been involved with and I've been involved with many," Cox said. "You need to know that as well from the sources that you've received your information from."