CUPE BC President, Barry O'Neill, spoke to the media yesterday about the strike by civic workers in Vancouver. "[O]ur members are hurting out there," O'Neill said.
Paul Faoro, President of Local 15 which represents indoor workers, was with O'Neill at the press conference. Local 15 and the City of Vancouver have been able to agree on a wage increase of 17.5 over five years. But like Local 1004 (outside workers) and Local 391 (library workers), Local 15 hasn't been able to get the City to meet their demands for job security as well as protection for whistleblowers.
Protection for whistleblowers?
O'Neill has a lot of nerve. There is an unresolved complaint against him for allegedly being involved in the harassment of a whistleblower inside CUPE. A former secretary to two CUPE Presidents was blowing the whistle on unfair labour practices inside CUPE when a letter she had written to Barry O'Neill about the issue was turned over to police in Dec. 2002. She was then visited by VPD Constables Ng and Herrmann in what she alleges was an exercise in intimidation.
One of the issues raised by this secretary -- who had left CUPE with two glowing letters of reference -- was that she saw female co-workers fired after they spoke up about such issues as unfair workloads, verbal abuse, and the fact that CUPE had renegged on a promise of a pension. They had no job protection as these CUPE secretaries did not have the benefit of a union.
Earlier the same year, 2002, CUPE had muzzled a whistleblowing steamfitter and CUPE member working in Plant Operations at the University of British Columbia. The steamfitter persistently spoke up about alleged irregularities in WCB payments which he was briefly receiving, cheques which were processed through the employer and the union. Twice large cheques arrived at his door, for the amounts he had claimed he was owed. They came from the Back to Work office at UBC which was headed by a woman who was on the CUPE Local 116 Executive. But no explanations were given for these cheques. He didn't shut up. The Executive of CUPE Local 116 called the police on him, claiming that he had been threatening.
CUPE BC took an interest in the steamfitters case. They sent a lawyer to a meeting with him and the university. He had not brought a lawyer. The CUPE lawyer,whom he described as "tough", told him that he had to get a psychiatric assessment and take medication or he would lose his job. Guess who shut up about the WCB issue? But CUPE was accused of becoming involved in "political psychiatry".
Conclusion: Barry O'Neill has alot of nerve to demand that the City grant CUPE's membership with protection for the whistleblowers amongst them. But Local 15's Faoro, who is rumored to be angling for O'Neill's job when he retires, has alot of nerve too.
Local 15 was made aware in 2003 of the tactics from unfounded police complaints to political psychiatry that their dues to CUPE BC were supporting. What did Local 15 do to ensure that workers could speak up about workplace conditions without fear of harassment? Nothing. But Faoro had the term "fair" on his lips during this summer's CUPE strike, so the secretary wrote to him asking that he show some leadership and ensure that her grievance against CUPE was resolved.
Faoro ignored her.
"[I]t's time to actually end this dispute," Faoro told the Vancouver Sun yesterday. Which dispute would he be talking about? The one between his members and the City of course, not the whistleblowing secretary's dispute with CUPE.
"In order to show leadership, and try to resolve this dispute, we are prepared to take the lead....", Faoro also told the Sun. The whistleblowing secretary has yet to see these leadership qualities in Faoro.
Harassment of a whistleblower by CUPE is not restricted to the case of the secretary and the steamfitter. The Downtown Eastside Enquirer has obtained documentation supporting two other cases: the case of a whistleblower about the Vancouver School Board and that of whistleblower at the CUPE stronghold of Carnegie Center.
The Vancouver School Board Whistleblower: a CUPE member working inside the VSB involved herself in harassment tactics targeting this whistleblower
This situation occurred after several Vancouver residents had independently complained over the years to the Vancouver School Board about a verbally and at times physically abusive, and racist, teacher. Nothing was done. A woman wrote to the School Board in the fall of 2002 about the VSB's duplicity in the handling of such complaints, specifically their public assurances to the public that "bullying" complaints were taken seriously while in reality disregarding them and treating the complainants as the problem. She stated in the letter that she intended to draw public attention to this duplicity by campaigning in the School Board election, just two months away. In the same letter she made a freedom of information request for recent documents from the file pertaining to her complaint against this teacher.
The response this woman got was a visit from Car 87, in which a police constable and a psych nurse ride together. She believes that this was an attempt to undermine her credibility in the upcoming election campaign. When the woman read the psych report which cleared her but smeared her, the sole reason given for the visit was that she had made "freedom of information requests." The primary witness against this whistleblower was, guess who? A CUPE member. It was Georgina Kosich, the Labour Relations and Freedom of Information Assistant who processed foi requests at the VSB. Kosich was the only staff person who met with the psych nurse, Don Getz, when he arrived at the VSB in the police car, according to his report, (although he had briefly spoken to an in-house lawyer, new on the job, who directed him to Kosich.) More about Kosich: the targeted woman has letters she received from Kosich in response to her freedom of information requests encouraging her to feel free to contact her. The targeted woman's FOI requests had not been excessive; she had made two over the previous year. This case has been labelled "political psychiatry" by Downtown Eastside advocates.
The Carnegie Center Whistleblower: CUPE members were involved in getting an alleged whistleblower barred from Carnegie Center
The most recent case, of course, of the involvement of CUPE members in silencing a whistleblower is the notorious case of Bill Simpson, a homeless man who was barred from Carnegie Center because he was suspected of being associated with a blog. The blog was being used to blow the whistle on Carnegie Center staff [most of whom are CUPE members] and Director Ethel Whitty for not always giving taxpayers what they had paid for.
Roughly a year ago, bloggers began reporting to taxpayers when CUPE members [and one BCTF member] were locking patrons out of publicly-funded educational and computer services that were scheduled to be open. CUPE members interrogated volunteers at the Center in what took on the characteristics of a "witch hunt" for the blogger. In fact, one volunteer claims he was separately questioned by Rika Uto, Colleen Gorrie, and Carnegie Assistant Manager Dan Tetrault -- all CUPE members. The volunteer was also interrogated by two members of the BC Teachers Federation, Lucy Alderson and Betsy Alkenbrack, and Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty. This witch hunt resulted in Bill Simpson being led to the office of Skip, Carnegie Head of Security and a CUPE member with some seniority, and informed by Lucy Alderson that he was barred from the Carnegie Learning Centre.
But here's the thing about Skip: he showed a tendency to skip Simpson's rights. When Simpson asked him for something in writing so that he could appeal this barring from a public space, he recalls Skip saying, "Ah come on, give me a break, I'm new here." Skip never gave Simpson anything in writing, and neither did Alderson who was also asked.
Carnegie Board member, Rachel Davis, recently stated on Vancouver Co-operative Radio that every barring at Carnegie must be accompanied by an incident report. But security guards don't always produce one and when the do, she explained, they often won't allow the targeted individual to see it.
But efforts to stop legitimate whistleblowing at the Carnegie Center didn't end with this barring. They continued when bloggers alleged that a CUPE member in a social work role was repeatedly having sexual relations with male clients, many of whom were troubled. Two of these clients had successfully committed suicide and one made an unsuccessful attempt by jumping off a bridge and becoming a quadrapelegic -- although no direct link was claimed to exist between these tragedies and the supervisor's former sexual liasons with these men. The 'Sex in the City' supervisor was not named in the post at the request of sources who simply wanted her misconduct to stop.
Not only was the 'Sex in the City' supervisor never genuinely investigated but, with the support of CUPE, managed to wrangle a Workers Compensation judgement out of this situation. She took the position that bloggers at Carnegie were creating an unsafe work environment. Carnegie Board member, Grant Chancey, an outspoken CUPE supporter during the strike, wasn't buying this framing of blogging as a safety risk to a CUPE member. "This is not a WorkSafe issue", he said at a Community Relations Meeting at Carnegie, adding that he had seen no threats whatsoever on the blog posts "and I've looked and I've looked and I've looked."
The result of the WCB claim, according to Ethel Whitty, was that homeless Bill Simpson was once again barred -- this time from the entire building. He was no longer accused of blogging but simply of "featuring links" on his website to the blog criticizing CUPE members at Carnegie. Written notification of the barring was personally delivered to Simpson on June 21, 2007, after he was held at the front door of Carnegie by Trey, a security guard and CUPE member. Director Whitty and Assistant Director, Dan Tetrault, a CUPE member, came downstairs from their offices to deliver the letter. This was one of Tetrault's last acts on the job before going on strike to demand more money and of course whistleblower protection for himself and his CUPE dues-paying co-workers.
CUPE members from top to bottom at Carnegie involved themselves in this barring despite the fact that low income members of the Center had elected Simpson to the Board of Directors two weeks earlier. Did I mention that Simpson is not even allowed into the building to attend Board meetings? The henchmen at the front door, all CUPE members, will stop him.
In the case of the attempt to penalize whistleblowing on a blog, a characteristic tactic of CUPE leaders or members turned up -- the unfounded police complaint. Bill Simpson was contacted by police and so were others suspected of being associated with the whistleblowing blog. But a visit to an ex-boyfriend of the 'Sex in the City' supervisor and CUPE member was particularly telling. The police officer who appeared to be off duty told the ex-boyfriend that the Crown would not be laying charges as the blog content was true, but that he had come to register concerns about the blogging. Blatant intimidation. Blatant police state activity.
Carnegie Assistant Manager, Dan Tetrault, would have at the very least known about this police complaint. Did I mention that Tetrault is the guy with a high five figure salary out on the picket line asking for more money and whistleblowing protection for himself and his co-workers?
It's documented. CUPE leaders and members have a record of harassing whistleblowers by employing illegal tactics ranging from police complaints unsupported by actual evidence to political psychiatry similar to that employed in the People's Republic of China. And while doing nothing to address the suffering of whistleblowers whose reputations they have damaged, CUPE has the nerve to demand whistleblower protection for their members.
It's time to blow the whistle on CUPE.