When voters think of the political party most likely to be leading the charge in advocating for workplace health and safety, especially in areas like workplace harassment, most would point to the NDP as the workers’ champion. Indeed, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath addressed the issue at the recent NDP convention in Ottawa, telling reporters, “Whether it’s a political party, whether it’s a workplace…the bottom line is, ‘enough is enough. It’s time to make sure that women and people generally are able to work safely, with dignity, without harassment.”
Yet, against that backdrop, the Bay Observer has learned that in the three NDP constituency offices in Hamilton, including Horwath’s own constituency office, there have been several serious allegations of harassment and bullying of MPP office employees that have led to significant staff departures. Between the three constituent offices of Horwath in Hamilton Centre, Paul Miller in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Monique Taylor in Hamilton Mountain; it appears no less than 11 workers have been either fired, have quit, were bought out after filing grievances– some of which have gone to arbitrations which are still pending –or were simply paid to stay at home.
Todd White is the Chair of the Hamilton and District School Board. He is also employed in the Constituency office of Hamilton East Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller, a job he has had for nearly ten years. At least he is still on the payroll; but he confirmed to the Bay Observer that he hasn’t actually been in the office since last June. In response to the mystery of why he is being paid to stay home he referred the Bay Observer to Mr. Miller for an explanation. For his part Miller referred us to the NDP Director of operations.
The Bay Observer talked to several former constituency workers who asked for anonymity on the grounds that being identified would have a negative effect on their current employment prospects.
Reminiscent of the movie Horrible Bosses, a pattern emerges in the narrative by former staffers describing a toxic office climate where the MPP sometimes intimidated and bullied them, where the workload was crushing, where training was non-existent, and where the MPPs demanded personal loyalty by staff above other qualifications. According to one former staffer, a Hamilton MPP asked an employee to do an online search on the status of a private members bill the MPP had sponsored. When the worker, who was relatively new to the job, asked for instructions on how to execute the search, a co-worker recalls the MPP yelling “are you (expletive) kidding? Are you (expletive) stupid? The worker went home in tears. Said one former worker, “when I left (MPP’s employ) I was physically and mentally broken. They wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement—I told them to go to hell.” The Bay Observer has learned that several of the terminated employees were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. Another worker described a situation where the MPP tried to get her to file a false sexual harassment accusation against a fellow worker in order to create grounds for that employee’s termination. That latter allegation has been confirmed by two other former employees of MPP’s.
Things came to a public head this past winter during the controversy created when some Tim Horton’s outlets cut back worker benefits citing the increase in minimum wage. The NDP, including Monique Taylor, participated in demonstrations outside the coffee shops. A social media post depicted Taylor “confronting corporate bully bosses at a Tim Horton’s on her home turf.” This was too much for one of her former constituency workers who posted “Are you (expletive) kidding me? That’s calling the kettle black!!! Can you say hypocrisy at its best???”
For her part, MPP Andrea Horwath filed a grievance against the union over her former employee Geraldine McMullen, who court documents say was fired in 2012 but remained on the payroll until November 2013, at which time Horwath grieved the union to stop the payments. The matter was unresolved into 2014. McMullin is a past candidate for Hamilton City Council. Her candidacy in the Ward 7 By-election won by Donna Skelly sparked a clash between two different NDP factions backing different candidates in that race.
Stress leave is a recurring theme in all three constituency offices. One worker who has been on leave for several months told the Bay Observer, “I’ve never been on anti-depressants and sleeping pills in my life and now I am. My doctor told me never to go back.”
A cone of silence has descended over efforts to obtain further documentation of the employee complaints. The Bay Observer contacted Monique Taylor’s office seeking a reaction to the allegations. The only response came from Marla DiCandia, Director of Operations of the Ontario NDP who said our email seeking response, “contains information that is not accurate and entirely out of context. While we would like to provide a response, we do not discuss employment-related issues with the media out of respect and concern for the privacy of our employees.” We invited Ms. DiCandia to identify any factual errors. The Bay Observer has also made repeated attempts to contact Patty Clancy a director of Canadian Office and Professional Employees union to confirm the status of the grievances filed by the constituency workers without success. Indeed, three of the former workers expressed deep dissatisfaction with the union’s actions on their behalf; one saying, “The Union will do what’s best for the Union but also what’s best for the NDP. The union was not representing me properly.”
In an effort to find out how much these terminations and buy-outs are costing taxpayers, the Bay Observer contacted Scott Turner, the Ontario Legislature officer responsible for constituency finances who said existing legislation prohibits him from releasing the information. Anticipating that the government would not release information about identifiable persons we asked for the global amount paid out for terminations for all five Hamilton constituencies without success. The Bay Observer has filed an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
People familiar with constituency offices have told the Bay Observer that even without a harassing work environment, constituency work is stressful and the caseload can be overwhelming. A typical Hamilton provincial or federal riding covers the same territory and population as several city wards, yet the budget allocated to each constituency office only allows a staff of two, a third worker supports the MPP at Queen’s Park. But the stress of the job is exacerbated if the MPP lacks the background, temperament or administrative skills to manage a small staff. A former constituency worker described her work pressures. “The MPP didn’t fulfil her duties to constituents …Staff … found the MPP unavailable when they needed to discuss. (The MPP was) more concerned with big ticket items that would enhance (the member’s) profile as a critic. We were trying to deal with issues like homelessness, abuse, CAS issues …you can’t leave this stuff at the office when you go home. You need support. One former constituency worker told the Bay Observer, “With the heavy caseload I started going in early and staying late but (the MPP) said there would be no lieu time (The MPP) told me I also had to do riding association work on my own time. There was pressure to work on municipal and federal campaigns (for candidates supported by the MPP) on our own time as well.”
The COPE union agreement specifically forbids pressuring workers to participate in the MPP’s political campaigns or those of people supported by the MPP, but everyone contacted by the Bay Observer said the rule is routinely ignored. As one former staffer put it, “these MPPs are delusional. They have no training in managing people. No background in HR. They treat office staff as if they are personal assistants. It was simply expected that staff would run election campaigns. If you said no they would then start looking for other ways of getting you out.”
For the taxpayer, in addition to the cost of paying off severed employees; there is a negative impact on the ability of constituency offices to perform their basic function—looking after public enquiries. If an employee goes on a long term sick leave or receives a severance package, the cost comes out of a legislature budget—not the MPPs, giving them the ability to hire someone to fill in. But if an employee is being paid to stay home, as is currently the case of Todd White, who works for MPP Paul Miller, the office has to get by with reduced staffing as it has apparently been doing since June of 2017.
Commenting recently on sexual and other forms of harassment in the workplace, Horwath stressed the importance of “ensuring that all staff, managers and elected officials are able to do their important work in an environment that is free from harassment in any form.” To that end the NDP will be offering training to MPPs and staff.