Here’s the latest in news and analysis from FW K.!
August 1st was a beautiful day in the nation’s capital. In fact, it was so nice that the Ottawa-Outaouais IWW decided to get together, enjoy the last gasps of the summer, and take the fight to the boss on behalf of Fellow Worker Aalya Ahmad.
Foot traffic was slow outside of the office, but our members were still able to engage a decent number of people with our signs and flyers. We have provided a digital copy of the fliers and the contained text below.
There’s a lot going on here and I don’t have time to read everything. How do I make sense of it?
If you have questions we haven’t been able to answer here or need help to sift through the evidence, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t picket but how else can I help?
- Send a letter or petition of support for Aalya, either as an individual or as a group to email@example.com. We will forward it to the CUPW National Executive Board and publicize it (with your permission).
- Follow, promote and share our fight on your social media
- Fight back against these issues on your own shop floor. Abuse of workers is never okay, even if it’s being done by a union. Remember that choosing to stay silent or ‘neutral’ in any given situation is choosing a side. In this case, it’s pretty clear which side workers should be on.
We thank the many postal workers across the
country who have reached out, voiced their
support, and condemned what is being done to
Aalya in their name, with their union dues.
Why should I support Aalya Ahmad?
Aalya is an organizer known for her work on social justice, equity and labour issues. She was the national Coordinator of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s and Human Rights, a founder of the Radical Handmaids, and active in the Occupy movement, to name just a few. Aalya has a solid track record of helping to get big wins for union members, including CUPW members. She deserves the same justice she fights for for other workers.
What started all this?
Aalya was president of her staff union Local CUPE 1979 and on their negotiations team with CUPW, which was demanding huge concessions from staff, when a conflict with a co-worker arose, during which she was subjected to bullying and threatening gestures. Aalya had previously been bullied at CUPW and was trying to get anti-bullying training in the workplace when this happened. As a result, she suffered a serious mental health crisis. Management unfairly put all the blame on Aalya for the incident and its aftermath, and ignored her medical condition, driving her out of the workplace and forcing her eventually to resign after repeatedly harassing her when she was on disability leave.
What are the issues and why is the IWW involved?
It’s about the way Aalya is being treated by CUPW’s management team with the full knowledge and collusion of the CUPW National Executive Board. We believe CUPW’s internal politics are a factor in the many abuses she endured, including the withholding of tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and entitlements upon her constructive dismissal. The IWW originally got involved because of this wage theft. We estimate the Board’s spending on lawyers on these matters far exceeds what Aalya was originally owed.
Have you tried talking to CUPW?
Yes. repeatedly We first contacted them in the fall of 2018, demanding Aalya be made whole and requesting to meet with them. We have repeated this request both in writing and by holding small and peaceful information at their national office. So far. they’ve either ignored us or accused us of harassing them by picketing, which is a weird position fora union to take (especially a union like CUPW). This should never have come to the point where we had to set up pickets but we did so only after their repeated refusals to talk.
What does the IWW want?
CUPW management originally withheld almost S30,000 from Aalya while persecuting her for fighting for her rights by filing a human rights complaint against them for discrimination on the grounds of disability. Against medical advice, they forced her into small claims court over a much smaller amount that she was already paying back To prevent the boss from dragging things out for years at the expense of her mental health, Aalya agreed to forgo some of the money she was entitled to in order to get her human rights complaint heard. We believe CUPW management has been treating this situation like a personal vendetta or ‘lawfare’ financed by their members dues. We want representatives who haven’t been directly involved in this dispute to review the wage theft issue and work with us to remedy it.
Do you have proof to support these claims?
Yes, we have extensive documents from emails and letters between CUPW management and Aalya. to letters from her doctors to the data on her stolen wages You can find it all on our Facebook page @ottawaoutIWW and on the Ottawa IWW website at OttawaIWW.org.
I’ve heard a different story from other sources.
Aalya was the target of a smear campaign designed to muddy the waters. The National Executive Board sent a statement about her to all CUPW representatives and staff nationwide, twisting the facts to make it look like she acted inappropriately. Her former CUPE Local 1979 objected to allegations in the statement. Prior to CUPW’s convention and elections, the smear campaign got really vicious. Collins’ predecessor and advisor posted Aalya’s RateMyProfessor page (an anonymous website often used for racist and sexist attacks on university workers) and disparaged her good work at CUPW to thousands of members. The smears are false but the smear campaigners rely on the fact that most folks won’t read through a massive pile of letters and emails to see the truth for themselves. They have also influenced members and staff to claim that Aalya is attacking them by simply trying to defend her rights as a worker and exercising her right to freedom of expression. This is a serious slur against someone who has dedicated her life to the labour movement.
Why is the IWW picketing when Aalya was a member of a staff union at CUPW?
The staff union (CUPE Local 1979) represented Aalya on some of the issues described here and we supported them in doing so. However, she is no longer working at CUPW and the wage theft issues are not resolved from our point of view. Aalya is also a member of the IWW Ottawa-Outaouais is General Membership Branch. Her other CUPE Local 4600 (representing teaching assistants and part-time professors at Carleton University) has written a letter to the CUPW National Executive Board in support of Aalya and its members have joined our pickets. That’s what solidarity looks like.
Don’t you support postal workers?
Yes we do and so does Aalya. Last winter the IWW everywhere walked CUPW’s picket lines and our members were even arrested in support of postal workers. In spite of how she has been treated, Aalya actively demonstrated her solidarity with CUPW members. Many postal workers are upset about how she has been treated. Our issue is exclusively with the paid representatives on the National Executive Board.
We have been asked if the IWW plans to picket CUPW Convention this week and we have heard that members’ money has been spent on booking extra security and hotel space to keep us out. We remind all CUPW Convention delegates and members that we continue to be strong allies of postal workers. We have no intention of interfering in any way with CUPW’s convention.
The attempt by CUPW’s national officers to demonize the Industrial Workers of the World is not only absurd, it’s tragic. Your legendary union is currently being led by people complaining about being bullied by picket lines that are set up on behalf of a bullied worker they refuse to settle with. Those who are playing victim continue to use their vastly superior resources (your dues) to destroy this worker’s reputation with blatant lies while continuing to attack her mental health and silence anybody who speaks up for her.
We believe that these actions will ultimately hurt the rank-and-file CUPW members whose picket lines we have walked, and, in fact, all union members who look to CUPW for leadership. However, it is not the place of the IWW to decide whom you elect. Regardless of who you elect, they will continue to face our ongoing demand for meaningful justice for our member, Aalya Ahmad.
We are no longer very interested in meeting with the CUPW representatives who have been previously responsible for the ongoing witch-hunt and wage theft against our member. We would like to meet with CUPW representatives who are actually committed to resolving the issues, not indulging in a vendetta subsidized by their members’ dues.
We also encourage CUPW to conduct a truly independent investigation, led by neutral rank and file members, into how your Human Resources Committee has conducted themselves in this matter (including how much money has been spent). But ultimately it is CUPW members that need to hold their leadership accountable.
Also, the IWW recently received a notice of libel from a lawyer representing CUPW’s National Executive Board. This notice makes reference to a statement produced by the Women’s Caucus of CUPE 4600 that we shared on our Facebook page. The claim is that we are somehow defaming CUPW by reproducing another union group’s report on an incident involving CUPW board members’ interactions with participants in our information picket.
Our members were walking the picket and witnessed what happened to the Women’s Caucus member. Based on our members’ own recollections and the recollections of CUPE members, the account is accurate. True accounts are not libel. The CUPE 4600 Women’s Caucus has not received a threat of libel. Why are we being targeted?
The notice claims that we have made numerous defamatory statements but does not specify any. We have no idea how to respond to such vague accusations. If we or other allies of FW Ahmad have made any errors, we would correct them, but without having any idea what they feel these errors are specifically, it is quite literally impossible for us to respond in a meaningful way.
The notice attempts to target our union members individually. Going after individual (and typically low-waged, precarious and contract) union members for participating in a union campaign is extremely low. Our members are volunteering their time and dues to help an injured worker. Given the evidence presented to us, we believe the employer acted in breach of their responsibilities and the rights of our member.
The notice also accuses us of targeting the only two women executives of the National Executive Board. We strongly disagree with this disgusting characterization. We hold the entire board accountable for their actions taken against our member, our supporters and our branch. In our communications, we have named board members directly involved in the case at hand with the goal of clearly laying out the facts and circumstances of the case. This does not absolve other board members of their responsibility for holding their colleagues accountable, nor does it specifically target the members of the NEB who are women. The abusive behaviour detailed in our publications has nothing to do with the gender of the board members. People of all genders and identities are capable of abuse, and it is our collective responsibility as union members to point any abuse out and stop it.
FW Ahmad has previously received two similar threats to sue her for libel, neither of which were followed up on, as they were without merit. We expect the same result and feel that our actions have been based on the truth and are consistent with the principle of fair commentary and the right to express ourselves on this matter.
The bosses at CUPW hit a new low by dragging another union that represents some of their staff into this fight. COPE 225 was persuaded to side with the boss and amplify their lies.
It’s a shame that COPE 225 didn’t do its due diligence and investigate the situation thoroughly as we did (for months.)
Although COPE 225 sent their letter to the NEB confidentially, somehow rank and file postal workers had it and were sharing it on Facebook the next day. Great job respecting confidentiality there, NEB!
We are not going to share the COPE letter, not only because they requested confidentiality, but because it contains egregious lies that we want their executive to investigate and retract before any more harm is done to our member. If you wish to see the COPE 225 letter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will, however, share what we wrote to them:
A year ago, CUPW took box-fulls of bullying complaints to Parliament Hill after a postal worker complained about the bully boss culture at Canada Post.
That didn’t mean they were “attacking” Canada Post. That didn’t mean the worker who complained of being bullied was “harassing” Justin Trudeau. So why would it be any different for FW Ahmad?
When people are bullied they want to be believed and need to have their situation addressed with compassion and a fair process. End bully boss culture at CUPW.
Our previous post showed what happened to FW Aalya Ahmad. She lives with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, undiagnosed at the time) and began to suffer symptoms of PTSD brought on by a co-worker’s violent outburst and management ignoring it.
CUPW completely ignored its responsibility to deal with the injury FW Ahmad suffered as a result of this workplace incident even though she made repeated pleas for help to management that day and in the days to come. (At its recent arbitration with FW Ahmad, management even appeared to have forgotten that she had filed a WSIB claim for chronic mental stress.)
Look at the documents to see what happened.
The incident happened on Monday, February 13, 2018 around 10:30 AM.
At around 10:45 AM, almost immediately afterwards, FW Ahmad went to 3rd National Vice President George Floresco with her CUPE shop steward and shares that she is “triggered by yelling and threatening gestures because of past bullying incidents…”
At 1:11 PM, less than two hours after the incident, she reported being in distress due to current and ongoing bullying to 1st National Vice President Jan Simpson, George Floresco and President Mike Palecek (who recused himself). This is what she wrote:
“Her [co-worker’s] raised voice, aggressive anger and violent hand gestures left me severely triggered as I am a survivor of physical abuse. This completely inappropriate behaviour has made this workplace psychologically unsafe and unhealthy for me. The employer’s ongoing refusal to address bullying issues in the workplace is a real problem that must be addressed.”
The next day, Tuesday, February 14 at 7:23 AM, FW Ahmad wrote to National Executive Board (NEB) members Simpson, Floresco and Palecek, again reporting distress:
“I am upset, shaken and shocked by this completely inappropriate behaviour. As a survivor of physical abuse, I am triggered by violent gestures. The anger and aggression that ___ displayed towards me is excessive, over the top, and an outburst that should not be tolerated in the workplace.”
Two days later, due to the employer’s handling of the situation, Ahmad was in a situation of mental health crisis and breakdown which she reported to her employer. She emailed the following request to Simpson, Floresco and Palecek on February 16, 2018 at 2:37 PM.
I am severely triggered by the bullying and harassment I have reported.
As you are aware, this is not the first time for me at CUPW. My panic attacks and anxiety have returned and I have been unable to eat or sleep. My focus is completely shot and I have been unable to think clearly since Monday.
I think it would be best if I took next week away from the office as leave in order to do some self-care and try to be in a better place to deal with this trauma. I am currently experiencing the office as a hostile work environment.
I am therefore requesting special leave under Article 14.9 of the collective agreement from Tuesday through Friday of next week. I had already arranged for the 20th.
I will make myself available for the ADR as agreed on Friday.
Please advise if this leave is approved.
The Human Resources Committee (National Secretary-Treasurer Bev Collins, Simpson and Quebec National Director François Senneville) responded to this injured worker as follows:
This letter is to inform you that your request of special leave is denied.
The conditions don’t warrant approval of your special leave request. The circumstances of your request are directly attributable to you.
In addition, another member in the communications department is on leave next week and due to operational requirements, leave cannot be approved.
cc. Jan Simpson, Francois Senneville.
They didn’t refer her to her Employee Assistance Program, suggest she use sick leave, or follow up on her reported condition. They didn’t even get the date of her request right.
They told a traumatized worker in crisis that this was her fault and that she had to come into work because of “operational requirements”.
Is that how you treat an injured worker, CUPW?
N.B. Sunday is April 28th, the National Day of Mourning for workers killed, injured or made ill on the job. Mourn our dead. Fight like hell for the living.
The People’s History of Modern Europe is a book that provides an alternative reading in European history focusing on the struggles of common people as well their conflict with those in power. “A People’s History of Modern Europe offers a concise, readable alternative to mainstream textbooks and surveys while suggesting a different understanding of the development and trajectory of European history. That
is, history is presented as moving through conflicts between contending groups rather than as the result of brilliant insights by upper-class rulers and thinkers” (p.viii).
In his introduction, William A. Peltz refers to a famous experiment conducted in 1999. Participants were shown a video presenting two teams of three persons each, one team in black and the other in white, as they moved around and passed basketballs to each other. The viewers were asked to count the number of passes made by the team dressed in white. During the video, a person in a gorilla suit walked across the screen pounding her chest for 5 seconds. In test after test, around 50 percent did not notice the gorilla. In fact, many participants insisted that there had been no gorilla even when told and shown the video a second time. For his purposes, Peltz argues that the common people are the “gorilla” that scholars and students often fail to see (p.x), one of the problems that the writer tries to address.
Another one is class bias (p.xi), “…most history has been written as if only kings, queens, generals and later big businessmen—in brief, the rich and powerful—are the only fit subjects for history” and sexist bias (p.xi), “…women [are] dismissed or trivialized in particular. This is not because there is any body of evidence to support the thesis that women are unimportant, but rather because it suits the ruling-class males who dominate the status quo”.
That’s what Pelz’s History is for, an easy to read history book that provides and insight on the great numbers of political revolutions that took place in Europe from the Middle Ages on-wards in an effort to intercept the expansion of capitalism and modern industrialism in what it turned the atrocious system that we live in today.
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.)
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 aggressive 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.