Winnipeg city hall’s internal probe into the workplace habits of its building inspectors seems to be having a ripple effect across the administration.
The transit union complained Thursday its contract talks had been impacted, after the city’s chief bargainer was tasked last week to head up the internal probe into planning, property and development department employees.
Aleem Chaudhary, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said the union was attempting to get more bargaining dates following its members' overwhelming rejection last week of an offer from the City of Winnipeg.
On Thursday morning, he said the city initially told him talks would be paused for three weeks, bt after the union posted that message on social media — which was followed by enquires from news outlets — Chaudhary said the city soon agreed to five dates over the next four weeks, and promised more days during that time frame.
Chaudhary said impasses at bargaining are only resolved when both sides sit down and do not leave until they have an agreement, adding the city's recent change in bargaining strategy is deeply concerning.
"We want a deal, and we told them (five days over four weeks) isn't good enough," Chaudhary said. "Our members expected us to get back to the table and now they're feeling disrespected."
Text of an email sent April 5 by Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, to all members of council and senior administrators updating the status of the internal probe into allegations against inspectors at the planning, property and development department
From: Jack, Michael
Sent: Friday, April 05, 2019 4:57 PM
To: Browaty, Jeff; McNeil,Doug; Allard, Matt; Bowman, Brian; Chambers, Markus; Eadie, Ross; Gameiro, Carlos; Gillingham, Scott (Councillor); Gilroy, Cindy; Klein, Kevin; Lemoine, Marc; Lukes, Janice – City Councillor, Waverley West; Mayes, Brian; MayorBowman; Nason, Shawn; Orlikow, John; Rollins, Sherri; Santos, Vivian; Schreyer, Jason; Sharma, Devi – City Councillor, Old Kildonan
Cc: Wardrop, Dave; Wiltshire, Felicia; Kiernan, John; Cusson, Angie; Kirby, Robert; Fuith, Jason; Hildebrand, Jonathan
Subject: RE: Winnipeg Free Press Article This Evening
Mayor Bowman and Councillors,
I had committed earlier to getting back to you by end of day with an update on this, which is the purpose of this message. I will also attempt to address some of the items raised by specific Councillors:
• AVL (Councillor Browaty)
• Council seminar & union response (Councillor Klein)
• Monitoring mechanisms (Councillor Santos)
• Tracking cellphones (Councillor Lukes)
• Departmental culture (Councillor Eadie)
I need to reiterate that at this stage, we are still dealing with unproven allegations. We owe it to you and the citizens of Winnipeg to take this seriously and move with dispatch; likewise, we owe it to our employees to follow due process in all HR matters.
Beginning within minutes of having read the WFP article on Thursday, our investigation had informally commenced. This morning, the CAO’s Office, PPD Senior Management, Human Resources and Labour Relations met to chart out next steps. Our Labour Relations Division will be leading this investigation, which will include employee interviews beginning Monday morning. We have requested the private investigator’s report from the WFP reporter; that request was refused. We have already explored other options to obtain the surveillance evidence, and I am hopeful we will be able to obtain same in the near future. This would assist us immeasurably, as at the moment, we are left with a number of allegations not tied to any individual employee(s) (other than an allegation of one specific employee taking too many cigarette breaks).
Regardless, we also have to plan our approach for the event that we are not able to obtain the private investigator’s report. The investigation plan will consider all available evidence, including reviewing inspection files (both paper and electronic), and reviewing all available relevant data (such as the kind of information recorded on devices like tablets and phones). For obvious reasons, we will not be speaking publicly in any greater detail than I have just done while this investigation is ongoing.
With regard to specific issues raised:
I can confirm that our inspectors use their own vehicles in the course of their employment, not vehicles provided by PPD/Fleet. As a result, they do not have AVL installed, as that is limited to the City-owned fleet.
We have discussed with PPD whether, given the current allegations, this highlights a need to change that practice, and have inspectors solely utilizing City fleet vehicles. This business case analysis has been performed periodically by PPD, with the results typically pointing toward the status quo as the preferable route. There are numerous unintended consequences that follow from requiring all 57 inspectors to each use a Fleet vehicle, not the least of which is the need for overnight storage of an additional 57 vehicles in proximity to PPD offices, where parking is already scarce. In any event, in light of this concerns raised by the allegations, PPD has committed to reviewing current practice.
We do not have a seminar booked for this Monday morning, as requested. Apart from the difficulty in assembling all of you on such short notice, the primary reason we have not yet organized one is that this investigation has only just begun. We truly would have very little to offer you, and even less that we would be at liberty to divulge openly. I am happy to make myself available for any direct conversation any of you wish to have over the weekend and beyond. We just don’t believe it would be a good use of your time to pull you all together this Monday.
As no allegations have been substantiated and no formal proceedings (e.g. discipline) have occurred, we have no formal response from CUPE at this time. I can advise that upon reading the article yesterday, I connected with the President of CUPE, Local 500. I was encouraged by his unequivocal support of our commencing a thorough investigation. He was very critical of any employee who would engage in such time theft as alleged, and reiterated that CUPE has no interest in defending such conduct (if proven).
He also offered any support they could provide, and we committed to staying in close contact over the coming days to brainstorm how such collaboration may prove effective.
Labour and privacy law have evolved over time with respect to employee monitoring. While some people often assume that employers have wide-ranging authority to engage in surveillance of their employees, that is typically not the case. All of our current practices regarding AVL, GPS tracking, CCTV cameras in the workplace and other types of monitoring comply with the most current law on these points.
Even with the use of AVL, the employer needs to demonstrate a business purpose beyond mere employee surveillance for it to be considered acceptable by a court, arbitrator or Privacy Commissioner. Nonetheless, as you would expect, we are taking this investigation as an opportunity to review all such practices.
In certain circumstances and with certain settings, the GPS data stored by devices may provide valuable evidence related to these allegations. I won’t go into any further detail other than to assure you, our investigation will be carefully considering any available evidence.
I need to reiterate that we do not yet have a full picture of what has occurred here, although we hope to soon. Councillor Eadie has raised some important and broad concerns. We will be using these concerns as good discussion points with and within PPD. I remain extremely confident in our Director and his Senior Management. I believe strongly that if cultural problems exist as Councillor Eadie has indicated, they are the right team to address any such issues.
While I doubt the above addresses every concern you all have, I am hopeful I’ve at least given you a slightly clearer picture of the path we’re intending to follow on this. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time for further discussion.
Michael A. Jack
Chief Corporate Services Officer
The city launched the probe April 5, after publication of a Free Press report outlining accusations of workplace misconduct by more than a dozen inspectors with the planning department, who were placed under surveillance by a local private investigations firm.
That day, Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, emailed all members of council and senior administrators, advising them the labour relations division would be leading the investigation, "including reviewing inspection files (both paper and electronic), and reviewing all available relevant data (such as the kind of information recorded on devices like tablets and phones)."
"Our members expected us to get back to the table and now they're feeling disrespected." — Aleem Chaudhary
The head of labour relations, Robert Kirby, is also the city’s chief contract negotiator and has been personally involved in talks with the transit union, which broke off March 21.
On Thursday, however, a civic spokesman confirmed Kirby will remain as lead negotiator in talks with the transit union.
"Negotiations with the ATU were not put on hold, and remain a priority for the City of Winnipeg," the civic spokesman said in an email to the Free Press. "The city has been working diligently with the ATU since April 8 to secure dates for negotiations that were agreeable to both sides."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 7:56 PM CDT: Updates story.
April 12, 2019 at 2:12 PM: corrects name of department