The Canadian Museum for Human Rights board of trustees says it’s aware of complaints of workplace racism and is committed to making sure they’re addressed.

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The Canadian Museum for Human Rights board of trustees says it’s aware of complaints of workplace racism and is committed to making sure they’re addressed.

On the other side of the gallery, the union representing 160 museum staff says it’s been filing grievances since 2018, and nothing changes at the "toxic work environment."

On June 5, some 15,000 demonstrators gathered at the Manitoba legislature, calling for an end to racial injustice and police violence. The Black Lives Matter rally ended on CMHR grounds.

In the days that followed, former and current museum employees shared stories on social media of racism and discrimination on the job, and having complaints ignored or dismissed — or employees being forced out.

"The museum’s board of trustees is aware of the concerns being raised about experiences of former and current BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) employees at the museum, and we are committed to ensuring they are addressed," a statement by board spokesperson Pauline Rafferty said Friday.

After providing advice to the CMHR leadership team, "We support the path forward that they have proposed to make positive change," Rafferty said from Victoria. She was not made available for an interview.

However, there’s been no commitment to anti-discrimination training, not even as recently as two weeks ago, museum labour representatives say.

"It's basically a toxic work environment," said Marianne Hladun, prairie regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The union is voicing concern publicly, because past and current CMHR employees are speaking up on social media — something that before now they've been avoiding, she said.

"It's not an easy topic to raise. The employees there believe so much in the institution, and feel that to go out and (complain publicly) discredits the work they're trying to do — but we've hit the tipping point," Hladun said in Winnipeg.

"There are a lot of people that leave and their rationale is because it is not a safe and healthy place to work," she said, unable to put a number to how many had left for such reasons.

"People who are so passionate about issues of human rights and so excited to work at an institution like the Museum for Human Rights get there and find out it's being run like a corporation," she said. "There's no recognition and acknowledgment of the intense content they're dealing with, and being able to support the workers there."

One example, Hladun said, was a front-line worker (and second-generation residential school survivor) guiding tours through the gallery and being challenged by members of the public making racist remarks and disputing any harm was done by residential schools.

Among the social media posts on the issue, one employee who identified as Indigenous said a white co-worker couldn't find their cellphone and looked in her purse to see if she had taken it.

Another said they were reading the 2017 book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race during a break at a training session. Days later, they were "hauled into a meeting" with a white manager and supervisor and told how personally offended and hurt the supervisor was by the title of the book.

"The organization needs to look at their turnover and look at doing some exit surveys," Hladun said.

On Friday, a CMHR spokesperson said they couldn't comment on the union's allegations as they're in the middle of collective bargaining. The museum workers' contract expired March 31.

On Wednesday, president and chief executive officer John Young said the CMHR is hiring an outside organization to review workplace practices and policies around diversity, respect, anti-racism and non-discrimination. The results will be used to develop an action plan to be developed and implemented working in partnership with employees, said Young, whose five-year term expires in August.

The CEO position was posted in February, and pays $188,500-$221,700 a year. Young has reapplied for the position, a CMHR spokesperson said.

The board has said it has faith in the process.

"As an institution dedicated to human rights and to fostering dialogue and respect, the museum is, and must be held to a higher standard when it comes to how it responds to issues of race or discrimination," Rafferty's statement said. "The museum is committed to doing the hard work that needs to be done, and the board looks forward to management’s progress."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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