DISCRIMINATED BLACK POINTE-CLAIRE WORKER’S UNION GRIEVANCES STILL IN LIMBO, UNION NOT RESPONDING
Montreal, December 5, 2016 — Although he has obtained his harassment-related workplace injury benefits, a Black blue-collar worker with the City of Pointe-Claire is preparing to file a complaint against his union as he is still kept in the dark by his union about his labor grievances related to racism on the job.
Last summer, Mr. Alrick Bowen reached a settlement with his employer, the City of Pointe-Claire, which entitled him to workplace injury benefits for psychological problems resulting from racist treatment from co-workers since 2001. He was among the handful of workers of color who were hired by the City administration, despite that visible minorities made up 18% of the city’s 30,000-strong population.
On numerous occasions, he reported the racially discriminatory acts to management without any result. A 2001 government report pointed to a toxic climate of physical and psychological harassment in the department of Public Works where Bowen worked, and a 2008 government ruling against the City that referred to the “inertia and the recklessness (“insouciance”) on the part of the employer in… preventing all forms of discrimination and harassment within the framework of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”
Mr. Bowen sought help from his former union, the Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal, local 301, FTQ. As a result two grievances were filed, one in September 2008 regarding racial harassment and non-respect of seniority and another grievance, in October 2009 regarding monies owed to Mr. Bowen. In 2014, he learned that two grievances were disposed of subsequent to a discussion between the City and his union without his knowledge or consent. Two more grievances were filed in 2013 (psychological harassment) and 2014 (employer’s refusal to accommodate Mr. Bowen with another position).
It was only in June 14, 2016, when Mr. Bowen went public about his situation at the City that he learned for the first time, through the City’s press statement sent to a CBC radio program while he was being interviewed, that the City had made financial payments to the union to settle a number of grievances, including the two of his three grievances that dealt with racism at work and failure to provide him with employment after his first sick leave.
Yet he was never informed by his union about any payment, much less received any penny from the disposal of his two grievances.
Two months, he asked for CRARR’s help by writing to Chantal Racette, president of the union, to enquire about this payment and his grievances. A fax was sent on September 12 to Ms. Racette. Neither CRARR nor Mr. Bowen has received an answer from the union to date.
“From the get go, getting help from the union to protect me from racism at work has been a problem as daunting as getting my employer to prevent such acts,” Mr. Bowen said. “I had to constantly bypass the local union chapter to go straight to the union president for help.”
“Former President Michel Parent was very supportive, and he even wrote twice to the City’s Director General about my case. His leadership on antiracism is unique and unequal. Sadly, since his departure, things seem to start back at 0,” he noted.
As of last week, Mr. Bowen learns that both grievances filed in 2013 and 2014 have yet to be in front of an arbitrator by the union for a ruling. He is considering filing a complaint of union misrepresentation against his union.
In other words, there is no longer any grievance to seek racism-free, equitable and safe job conditions upon his return to work after his sick leave. The fundamental problem of racism on the job, which he experienced, may be never addressed by the city and the union.
In the mean time, CRARR has learned of another worker of color who has had to go on sick leave for almost a year due to racial discrimination and harassment at the City. This worker has also experienced problems in obtaining fair union representation in seeking redress.
Since a Supreme Court ruling in 2003, known as the Parry Sound decision, unionized employees who are racially discriminated cannot turn to the human rights commission for protection, but must go through the union’s grievance and arbitration process.
“Our labor relations system is basically ill-equipped to address racism at the workplace, because it is essentially a majority-rule structure in which racial minorities are still woefully under-represented at every level of decision-making,” noted CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.
Recently, the Quebec Superior Court found the union and four of its top executives, including Ms. Racette, in contempt of court for violating a Labor Tribunal order. There have also been news reports that some executive members are suing the union’s president for engaging in questionable practices.