Manitoba labour leader quits, cites ‘degrading, disgusting’ remarks from union men

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A Manitoba labour leader has quit her job, shocking other local union members with descriptions of misogynist and humiliating remarks she allegedly endured from union brothers, as well as a sexual assault.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/03/2019 (1352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Manitoba labour leader has quit her job, shocking other local union members with descriptions of misogynist and humiliating remarks she allegedly endured from union brothers, as well as a sexual assault.

Postal worker Basia Sokal, now the former president of the Winnipeg Labour Council (WLC), resigned at a board meeting Tuesday evening in front of a crowd of about 60 people. A 15-minute audio recording of her resignation speech was uploaded online by Rank & File Radio — Prairie Edition.

In her remarks, Sokal detailed some of the things allegedly said to her during her tenure as council president, a role she began in January 2017.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Basia Sokal said she did not want to leave the job, but wanted those in the labour movement to understand how much their comments hurt her.

 

 

"’You women are all the same. If you don’t like what’s going on, why don’t you just leave?’" Sokal said she was told, as well as: "’Let me tell you a story about what happened to the last person who didn’t agree with us,’" and "’Nice tits.’"

Someone in the room can be heard shouting, "Name names. Out them!" in the recording, which Sokal did not do.

"I just wanted to announce that because of all of these degrading and disgusting actions that I will be taking a leave and I will be stepping down. I don’t believe I want to be a part of this any longer. This is not what I signed up to do," she said during her speech.

"It breaks my heart that I feel the need to tell you this, but we need to do better. We need to do so much better," she said. "Because, as a woman in this role, I feel I was basically tapped so that I could be told what to do because it would look good to have a female president at the head, it would look great to have a woman in that position."

In an interview at her home Wednesday, Sokal elaborated on her concerns, noting she contacted the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) last spring, after hearing women were degraded at a WLC meeting when she wasn’t present.

CLC began an investigation, which Sokal said wasn’t thorough and ultimately led to worse behaviour.

"The CLC flew in last April or May… to address some of these concerns, left and said there would be a report back. And nothing happened," Sokal said. "It just perpetuated even more vile and hateful comments, and then other people got on board with that."

CLC’s Manitoba representative, Bernie Wood, responded to initial inquiries from the Free Press and said an investigation into Sokal’s recent comments is underway. He referred follow-up questions to CLC prairie director Darla Deguire, who did not respond by deadline Wednesday.

‘It breaks my heart that I feel the need to tell you this, but we need to do better. We need to do so much better’
– Basia Sokal

Deguire, however, spoke to the CBC and said an investigation into Sokal’s latest comments "has not yet started because we have not yet received a complaint."

For her part, Sokal isn’t convinced a new CLC investigation would produce a different outcome.

"I find that curious because why would there be an investigation now when I came forward over the last year with complaints and concerns? What would an investigation do now?" she said.

Last year, Sokal also filed a complaint to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, alleging she was sexually assaulted by a fellow member. She said three other women came forward with similar allegations about the same man.

Sokal said she didn’t want to contact police, after she had a previous negative reporting experience with officers, so she decided to go the union route. She declined to elaborate.

CUPW Local 856 president Lisa Peterson confirmed the union is conducting hearings about the sexual-assault allegation.

"There are internal processes and Basia Sokal had access to those. CUPW is following its own investigation process," Peterson said in an interview, noting she couldn’t elaborate further.

Sokal’s resignation has sparked discussions among union members about power and gender dynamics. With the 100th anniversary of Winnipeg’s 1919 General Strike on the horizon, she said such soul-searching is overdue.

Sokal said some local union leaders are disconnected from workers’ needs and are largely white and male, unlike the workforces they represent. She took issue with some taking home six-figure salaries, while the workers they represent aren’t always making living wages. (Sokal said she made around $75,000 as WLC president.)

"This is my general strike," she said Wednesday from home, where she was busy fielding messages from friends and family concerned about her well-being. She said, by the afternoon, none she had received were from union leaders.

Sokal described the local labour movement as fractured, and said it has lost its way, detouring from traditional left-leaning roots to angle more support more right-leaning or centrist candidates in recent elections.

"We’re supporting candidates who will vote on a very difficult budget to raise transit fares by 25 cents? Where’s the boldness? There is none. And we are supposed to be the boldness in the labour movement, and we are supposed to be holding those folks accountable," she said of local politicians.

"And that is what I came to do in this position: to hold elected officials accountable. But I understand that that’s not what labour wants, based on my experience there."

Sokal said she’s concerned about other women in the labour movement, who can’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

"I worry that the women who have some serious things to say, who have legitimate concerns, won’t be able to come forward," she said.

Michelle McHale, a friend of Sokal’s, previously worked for UFCW and was a member of the Manitoba Federation of Labour’s executive council. She left labour to work in health care last year, and said Wednesday she had similar experiences.

"I know Basia to be a woman of integrity and… somebody that I see as a true leader in what the labour movement should be in that she’s a representative and a voice of the people who share things with her," McHale said in an interview.

"And I’ve seen the things that she’s talked about. There’s a lot of really good people in the labour movement who are there for the right reasons. But there are definitely people who need to re-evaluate how they’re doing things."

 

— with files from Ryan Thorpe

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 6:57 PM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 7:18 PM CDT: Full write through.

Updated on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 7:49 PM CDT: Adds quotes.

Updated on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 8:11 PM CDT: Updates.

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