Ottawa-Outaouais IWW

The General Membership Branch of the Ottawa-Outaouais region

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Handling Harassment Complaints Like a Boss

April 20th, 2019 by admin

The people currently managing the business of CUPW seem to have a very special idea of what defines harassment. Their smear letter against FW Ahmad demonstrates that in several ways. For example, the letter insinuates that our peaceful info picket is harassment. (Picketing = Harassment? Maybe you should have told people that before they went to picket postal plants in solidarity with your members.)

The smear letter also raises the allegations of harassment around FW Ahmad and claims that CUPW’s Human Resources Committee (elected officers, not actual HR specialists) dealt with those appropriately. The IWW would like to respond with a more thoroughgoing accounting of the events that ultimately led us to where we are today, unbelievably.

(N.B. All names and identifying information of staff involved in these correspondences are redacted except those of FW Ahmad, who has given her consent, and the elected officers involved who need to be held accountable for their actions).

In the smear letter, the high-priced lawyer they hired to write it claims that after a workplace conflict:

“CUPW immediately took every action necessary to appropriately address these allegations pursuant to its anti-harassment policy (our emphasis).

They did not follow their anti-harassment policy at all. Look at what happened and then look at the steps that are supposed to be taken in the anti-harassment policy.

The Conflict: Can You Spot the Harassment?

Aalya’s job was doing media work for CUPW, which often required very quick turnaround in order to respond to the media and get CUPW’s messages out.

When the union was meeting with then Minister Judy Foote in February 2017, Aalya was tasked with drafting a media release at the end of the day and sending it for translation and then out to a co-worker for formatting and getting it on the newswire early the next morning. To do this, she used an old release as a template and inserted new text. This was not unusual.

Early the next morning, the co-worker complained to George Floresco, Third National Vice President, that Aalya had inappropriately done her work and formatted the document by leaving the co-worker’s initials on it from the old template.

Floresco then publicly demanded an explanation from Aalya in an email to the whole communications team, which included several elected officers (an unnecessary escalation).

In sum:

Aalya attempted to resolve the issue and promised it would not happen again. 

The co-worker demanded Aalya meet with them and another administrative assistant. Aalya asked to make it a process meeting with all people responsible for handling media.

The co-worker then proceeded to storm into Aalya’s office and verbally abuse her, which shocked and traumatized her. Aalya indicates repeatedly that she is triggered by the behaviour.

Aalya went to George Floresco in person after this incident with another colleague acting as her shop steward to see if the conflict could be mediated.

Aalya also complained in writing about the behaviour of the co-worker to her other supervising officers by email. Nothing was done and nobody contacted her about her complaint.

The co-worker refused to engage in peaceful resolution or problem solving and filed a complaint in which she puts down Aalya’s work, insists on their own preferred process for media distribution, and asks to not work with FW Ahmad again.

Their complaint is presented to FW Ahmad via a letter from the Human Resources Committee that describes the situation as a harassment complaint filed against Aalya, completely ignoring Aalya’s own complaint about the co-worker’s agressive behaviour.

The letter advises FW Ahmad that they were immediately hiring a third party investigator for this complaint.

So, did they follow their harassment policy as they claimed they did in the smear letter?

“STEP A (Initial) The employer, CUPE, and COPE shall appoint a harassment complaint coordinator . . . Anyone with an allegation of harassment shall first contact their respective harassment complaint coordinator.”

There were no harassment coordinators appointed in the workplace. The complete policy was not posted, and the contents of it were not made known. Nobody was trained on it.

The co-worker went directly to management who did not refer them to their union.

Management immediately jumped to Step C. FW Ahmad’s complaint was ignored by CUPW completely at this point.

“STEP B (Problem Solving) . . . it may be deemed appropriate by the complainant and their respective harassment complaint coordinator to involve the employer in a problem solving initiative. . . When the respective harassment complaint coordinator and the complainant determine that problem solving will not take place, or that, once begun, problem solving initiatives have concluded unsuccessfully, the harassment complaint coordinator will advise the employer that a grievance may be filed.”

The co-worker’s complaint also skipped this step completely. They refused to engage in problem solving. No grievance on her issues was ever filed.

FW Ahmad’s complaint was never acknowledged as such, and only referred to as “a counter-complaint’ or a “concern”. She also did not file a grievance at this point.

“STEP C (Grievance – CUPE and COPE) When a grievance is filed, the employer will consult with a representative of the bargaining agent to select an investigator. Every reasonable effort will be made to reach an agreement on the investigator.”

No grievances were filed by either staff person regarding their conflict.

CUPW immediately appointed its own investigator without any consultation and informed FW Ahmad of the complaint and the expensive external investigation that would commence the next day after the incident.

When questioned about the process, Jan Simpson, First National Vice President, told FW Ahmad that they didn’t need to consult with her union and, as mentioned above, said the administrative assistant’s union had also not been involved.

So, yes they acted swiftly. But in the complete opposite direction of what they were supposed to do and only for one party involved. More to come.

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