Another Dispatch from the NPCA Twilight Zone

One of the lessons from in the zone – If you don’t say anything about workplace harassment, apparently it doesn’t exist

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted September 21st, 2017 on Niagara At Large

“We have a positive and high-performing workplace, and that’s what I work at every day.”

Some protest signs outside a board meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority this past April

That is what Mark Brickell, the most recently installed CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, told a reporter for one of region’s daily newspapers following the release of a report alleging a “toxic” environment and repeated harassment of employees in the NPCA workplace.

So if the Chief Administrative Officer for Niagara’s publicly funded Conservation Authority  says that, where do you go from there?

Well, one was you apparently don’t go is allowing a health and safety representative for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – one of Canada’s largest public sector unions  and the union representing  close to 40 front-line employees at the NPCA – make a presentation at the NPCA’s  monthly board of directors meeting this September 20th, the first full meeting the board has held since the OPSEU report was released and received a fair amount of exposure in the media and the provincial legislature.

OPSEU representative Terri Aversa applied a full two weeks before the meeting to speak to the board’s directors  – a majority of them politicians appointed by Niagara’s regional government – about the findings in the report, based on a survey conducted by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (a body the province’s Ministry of Labour has also used for workplace studies) and participated in 32 of NPCA’s 37 frontline, unionized employees participated in, that  contains claims by the vast majority of them that they have personally experienced and/or witnessed acts of harassment, including  “undesired sexual attention, threats of violence and bullying and discrimination,” in their workplace.

OPSEU union president Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas (right) has a few brief words with NPCA corporate services director and Port Coblorne regional councillor David Barrick before a board meeting this past spring. Photos by Doug Draper

The union a engaged the Occupational Health Clinics of Ontario Workers to perform the survey last winter and this past May, it presented the results to NPCA administrators hoping to meet with them to discuss what can be done to address any problems there may be that, according to Aversa, are causing at least some of the employees to go home suffering so badly, they are unable to get a good night’s sleep and break down in tears on the way to work the following day.

Aversa said the union also hoped to present to the administrators a list of 35 recommendations the employees made for improving the work environment, but that never happened. So a decision was finally made this September to make the report public and request an opportunity to discuss its findings and the recommendations from the employees to NPCA’s full board, Aversa said.

“It is unfortunate,” Aversa added during an interview with Niagara At Large. ‘We have tried to be responsible and work cooperatively. … We have tried to bring the health and safety concerns to the employer, then to the board (this September 20th) and a motion to speak to the board did not pass.”

Aversa said she received an email from Brickell days before the September 20th meeting saying ‘no’ to her request to make a presentation to the board because, as she read the refusal, Brickell did not feel a board of directors meeting was the place to deal with the matter.

Apparently, the media isn’t the place to deal with the matter either because as Brickell was quoted saying in the same newspaper report where he spoke of the ‘positive, high-performing’ working conditions at the NPCA, “I don’t think the proper way to deal with it is through the media.”

So what is proper way?

Aversa said the union is not going to give up trying to meet with administrators or make a presentation to the board, and if that doesn’t work, it may resort to calling on the province’s Ministry of Labour to take enforcement measures under its recently strengthened occupational health and safety legislation.

“We are not ruling anything out.”

Ontario Natural Resources Minister Kathryn McGarry meets Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board chair and Fort Erie regional councilor Sandy Annunziati at an event in the province earlier this year. Apparently the two are pretty much on the same page  on how Conservation Authorities should operate in the province.

Meanwhile, not a peep has been heard from the province’s Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry, whose ministry has jurisdiction over an Ontario Conservation Act that sets rules for Conservation Authorities across the province and who, a year ago this past April, stood in the Ontario legislature and declared; “There is no place, anytime, anywhere, for sexual harassment or misogyny. It’s sad that, in 2016, issues of sexual harassment in the workplace are still prevalent. It’s incumbent upon all of us to stand up and simply say it’s
Sounds good, Madam Minister, but now you have allegations of it happening systemically and repeatedly at a public body under your ministry’s watch.
So what is your next step? Are you going to back your words up with action, or we’re they just a lot of hot air?

For a related story on this issue that includes more information and a link an OPSEU post on the workplace harassment report referred to here, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/09/08/ontario-minister-mcgarry-must-act-on-workplace-harassment-allegations-at-npca/ .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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One response to “Another Dispatch from the NPCA Twilight Zone

  1. Today (September 22) I listened to an interview on 610 CKTB.
    Unfortunately, I recall neither the name nor the position the person holds in the NPCA. The representative of the NPCA stated (on the CKTB show) that the (union’s) survey questions were not specific/general to the current time.
    He also stated that he visits the workplaces and finds the people happy/satisfied in their jobs.
    He questioned why the union did not file grievances on behalf of the workers. Could it be that there was no grievance because the union was prevented the opportunity to undertake the grievance procedure?
    ..

    Like

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