“You might think you have deep pockets,” OPSEU President Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas warns Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority managers, “but I am telling you right now that we have deeper pockets than you and we will not let up until justice is served.”
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted Ocober 4th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – If those now managing the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority think they can continue getting away with laying off front-line employees and “destroying” the NPCA as an environmental protection body in the Niagara-Hamilton region, they have more than met their match, said Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, during a news conference in St. Catharines this Wednesday, October 4th.
“I have dealt with some bad bosses across this province and this one ranks right up there,” said the OPSEU president during the news conference.
“You might think you have deep pockets,” Thomas added in a message aimed directly at the NPCA’s top administrators and a board of directors made up mostly of municipal politicians appointed an Al Caslin administration now running Niagara’s regional government. “But I am telling you right now that we have deeper pockets than you and we will not let up until justice is served.”
Thomas said his union , which represents a number of the NPCA’s employees, including ones from the Conservation Authority’s watershed management program who were recently let go, and which is one of the largest unions for public sector workers in the province and country, “did not pick this fight (with the NPCA). … But we will finish it,” he vowed.
OPSEU, said Thomas, will be calling on the Ontario government to appoint a “special supervisor” to take control of NPCA operations and his union will also be pressing to have front-line employees that were laid off (eight were let go late this September) reinstated.
Cindy Forster, a labour critic for the Ontario New Democratic Party and MPP for the Welland Riding in Niagara, told those attending the news conference that she is also calling on the provincial government to amend Ontario Conservation and Municipal Act legislation to allow for cabinet ministers – in the case of the NPCA it would likely be Ontario Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Kathryn McGarry – to appoint a special supervisor.
Forster believes a supervisor is needed to go in and address ongoing questions and concerns raised by members of the public, local municipalities and MPPs about NPCA’s operations around hiring and firing practices, awarding contracts and a number of other matters.
Wayne Gates, the Ontario NPD member for the riding of Niagara Falls, added during the news conference that a special supervisor was appointed by the Ontario government within the past decade to take control of operations at the Niagara Health System when public trust collapsed over the way that organization was running hospital services in the region.
Gates went on to slam the current NPCA managers and board members over the latest layoffs of watershed management employees and headlines the Conservation Authority has garnered in local newspapers like; “NPCA cuts worry enviro groups” featured on the front page of The St. Catharines Standard this past October 3rd, and another headline on The Standard’s front page on October 4th reading; “NPCA sues former employee” – the ladder headline over a story about a lawsuit the NPCA recently filed against a former project manager, Jocelyn Baker, for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement she signed when her job was terminated by emailing one of the area MPPs, Cindy Forster, about concerns over working conditions at the Conservation Authority.
“I don’t know what you guys are doing, quite frankly,” said Gates in comments aimed at NPCA managers. “These are workers, these are people who care about their community and who care about the environment. … What are you doing and how do headlines like these help you?”
Gates vowed to work with OPSEU representatives to see that the front-line workers who lost their jobs at the NPCA are re-instated.
In written statements prepared for the OPSEU news conference, St. Catharines Liberal MPP Jim Bradley and Niagara West-Glanbrook Progressive Conservative Party MPP Sam Oosterhoff also expressed concerns over recent NPCA practices.
“The latest rounds of cuts of frontline staff at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has caused justifiable alarm among environment groups and indeed, thousands of people in the Niagara-Hamilton region who wish to see our natural heritage and environment protected by this agency,” said Bradley.
“With the loss of long-time and dedicated employees through both firings and resignations brought on by stress and discouragement, and the silencing of its critics with legal intimidation and retribution,” added Bradley, “the environment and public participation will be the losers.”
Said Oosterhoff; “I am disappointed that the NPCA has not been more forthcoming with the reasons behind these human resource changes.”
“As a taxpayer funded agency that has been under close scrutiny and criticism in recent months,” Oosterhoff added, “the NPCA needs to work with openness and a spirit of collaboration in order to restore public trust.”
NPCA held a news conference of its own this October 4th, which Niagara At Large did not receive notice of, to address what it described as the “misinformation and manufactured controversy” swirling around the Conservation Authority.
During that news conference, the NPCA’s CAO, Mark Brickell said “enough is enough” and declared that most, if not all the accusations, being made about the body, including charges that the work environment is “toxic” for employees and that the board and administrators are getting rid of certain front-line employees to members of the development community in the region a freer rain, “really do not reflect the organization that does exit.”
He charged that the many of the accusations being played out in the media are tantamount to “massive political interference … from special interest groups” – political interference, Brickell added, that is “inappropriate and unacceptable.”
As for charges that the NPCA has a toxic workplace, Brickell said the current board and management at the Conservation Authority has had “zero formal complaints” come before it of workplace harassment. He said a recently released OPSEU survey of NPCA employees, alleging continuing instances of harassment, “has no validity.”
Sandy Annuziata, a Fort Erie regional councillor and chair of the NPCA’s board of director, added that if Forster, Bradley and other area MPPs have concerns, they should sit down with NPCA management and board members and discuss them, rather than raise them in the media.
To watch a video of the entire NPCA news conference, click on –
/ More on the NPCA and related matters in Niagara At Large in the days ahead. Stay tuned.
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