A former secretary to two CUPE Presidents says she’ll cross CUPE picket lines. CUPE, she says, expects rights and benefits for their members that they have denied their own secretaries. In Dec. 2002, CUPE arranged for Vancouver Police Constables Megan Herrmann and Kevin Ng to telephone and visit her at her home to demand that she muzzle herself about unfair labour practices inside CUPE.

The whistle blowing secretary, who will be identified here by her initials “R.M.”, had exposed CUPE for allegedly operating a “non-union sweatshop”. She claims she saw two female co-workers fired after speaking up about issues such as an excessive workload, verbal abuse, and the reneging on a promise to provide a pension plan. She saw a third woman, a long time bookkeeper at Local 116, fired after she got cancer and became less efficient.

This scandal, says the former secretary who left CUPE with two glowing letters of reference, goes right to the top of the CUPE hierarchy. When she obtained a copy of the police report dated Dec. 17, 2007, she discovered that as “evidence” police had been given a copy of a letter she had sent to Barry O’Neill, President of CUPE – British Columbia Division, and a similar one she had sent to Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labor. The polite letters outlined unfair labour practices to which secretaries working inside the non-unionized office of CUPE Local 116 had been subjected. The message was clear from the filing of these letters in the Police Property Office, she says: “CUPE and the BC Fed believe that a woman speaking up about working conditions is committing a crime.”

The secretary asked both O’Neill and Sinclair in writing in 2003 to have these letters removed from the police property office. Speaking up about working conditions is not a crime, she reminded them. Neither O’Neill or Sinclair had the letters removed. Never once did either of these leaders speak to the secretary about this situation.

The whistle blowing secretary appealed to the Vancouver Police to expunge the notation of “Workplace Harassment” adjacent to her name on the police computer as a result of the CUPE complaint. Speaking up about unfair labour practices is a right, not workplace harassment, she pointed out, and in her case she had not even visited or telephoned Local 116 since leaving her job there. The VPD responded in writing that such notations remain on record for “99 years”, even in cases such as hers in which the accused has been completely cleared.

Another thing: The VPD does not even have jurisdiction at UBC., the RCMP does.  This fact has fueled allegations that the VPD unionized officers were  performing a favor for CUPE by intimidating a secretary.

The whistleblowing secretary also discovered from the police report that Ian Aikenhead, a former NDP President and CUPE lawyer provided information to police. It was information that he had access to as a result of his wife, Catherine Aikenhead, being an NDP-appointed public representative to a dental regulatory body in Vancouver.  Aikenhead resorted to exaggeration and misrepresentation to smear her as a complainer to police, she says, “because CUPE didn’t have the facts on their side.”

Indeed, it appears that CUPE did not have the facts on their side.  One 12-year secretary, S.A., was on record as having sued CUPE for a pension. Another secretary, S.K., received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from CUPE when she telephoned union members to discuss her firing and to request permission to attend the next union meeting to appeal it. S.K. was ordered to muzzle herself or she would lose her overtime pay. Because S.K. was the second fired secretary, CUPE – BC called Local 116 President John Geppert and Vice President Paul Cooke to their Burnaby headquarters to discuss these firings — so they knew that the whistleblowing secretary was not fabricating tales. The whistleblowing secretary could also prove through her pay stubs she had worked for long periods without benefits.

It is not just top union leaders, though, who have acted in a manner which indicates that the tactics used against the whistleblowing secretary are within their comfort zone. In 2003, CUPE Locals in Vancouver — including those currently striking — and the surrounding area were notified of human rights abuses raised by the case of the secretaries and asked to ensure that CUPE leaders resolve this case. What did they do? Nothing.

The secretary was not the only whistleblower CUPE Local 116 and CUPE – BC attempted to muzzle. They had successfully muzzled a whistle blowing steam fitter just months earlier in a case that led to accusations against CUPE – BC of practicing political psychiatry. The steam fitter,”S.J.”, had worked for years in Plant Operations at the University of BC and was a dues-paying member of CUPE Local 116 (unlike the whistle blowing secretary who was directly employed by CUPE Local 116.)

To read the remainder of this original article, see Downtown Eastside Enquirer

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