Employees of the Village of Cache Creek have filed a formal grievance alleging bullying and harassment by Coun. Annette Pittman, and would like to see Pittman barred from the village office and from communicating with the employees there.
The grievance was made public at the open council meeting of Aug. 3, which also featured a letter from the Ashcroft Indian Band alleging that Pittman had publicly disclosed confidential information about one of their employees.
At the start of the Aug. 3 meeting, Bryan Railton — Organizer/Business Representative of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 — presented a statement outlining the bullying and harassment cited by union members Alana Peters and Lindsay Armitage, both of whom work in the village office.
Railton said that the situation began as early as late 2018, around the time of the municipal election that saw Pittman returned to council after an absence of several years. At that time, a document written by Pittman was circulated throughout the village “regarding the qualifications of my members and misinformation regarding the rights of the ‘inside’ administrative employees to Unionize, among many other rantings.”
Railton said that he issued a letter dated May 21, 2019 to address some of the misinformation in the letter. However, he noted that the behaviour has continued and escalated since that time. He circulated several examples of disparaging comments made against staff on social media and elsewhere either by Pittman herself or by her father, Chuck Pittman.
“Much of what Ms Pittman continues to attack are the qualifications and the work ethic/practices of my members… It is the Union’s practice to protect its members. It is also the Village’s obligation to provide a safe workplace free of bullying and harassment, and at this point the Union does call into question the Village’s ability to provide such a workplace.”
Railton said that Pittman’s behaviour escalated on June 30, 2021. “[S]he had an interaction with my membership at the Village office that can only be described as intimidating to the point of harassment. I have attached a statement by Sister Lindsay Armitage regarding the incident [the statement was provided to council members but not made public]. What is not included in the statement is the aftermath of how the interaction affected her. To say she was upset is an understatement, and is a completely unacceptable situation in any workplace.”
As a remedy, the Union has asked that:
1) “In order to provide a safe and respectful workplace for its employees, the Employer shall bar and/or seek an injunction barring Ms Pittman from attending the Municipal Office of the Village. They should also include barring Ms Pittman from communicating either directly or indirectly with the employees.”
2) “That Ms Pittman issue a formal apology in writing to all the Employees of the Village, and said apology should be posted by the Employer in a public location at both the Municipal Office and Public Works Office.”
The Union also asked that the statement Railton presented be read at a council meeting, and that the village provide the Union with the most up-to-date copy of its bullying/harassment policy, along with other policies regarding code of conduct, personal and/or sexual harassment, bullying, or inappropriate conduct.
Railton noted at the meeting that Pittman’s actions were making the employees’ workplace unsafe, and that if left unchecked the comments could escalate, as they did on June 30. He added that he hoped council would give direction to implement the other remedies outlined, as if a solution was not found the next step would be arbitration.
“The biggest thing to understand under the arbitration process is that it’s a Labour Relations Board process, and while it’s regrettable considering the difficulties the village faces right now, arbitration can cost a significant amount of money, on average $20,000 or more per party. While that’s regrettable, the union has one very serious obligation: protecting its members. It’s an obligation I take very seriously, as many of Coun. Pittman’s concerns revolve around budgetary concerns.”
Speaking with the Journal, Railton said that making a public presentation about a labour matter was an unusual step, but added “It’s an unusual situation. There’s a lot of anger going against my members, and I hope it can be stopped and that people can behave properly.”
He confirmed that the village has provided copies of the requested policies, and that the ball is in the village’s court regarding the other two requested remedies. “We have extended the timeline to Aug. 19, and we’ll have to see where we stand with the grievance. We’re waiting for a final response from the village.”
Later in the Aug. 3 meeting, a second item pertaining to Pittman also formed part of the open agenda: a letter from the Ashcroft Indian Band alleging that in early July 2021, Pittman had been overheard by two employees at the Tim Hortons at the Esso Travel Centre owned by the Band discussing the fact that the Tim Hortons manager (and Band employee) Damian Couture had accepted the position of chief administrative officer for the Village of Cache Creek.
“Chief and Council has been advised that at the time of public disclosure by Ms Pittman, the information about the Village hiring Mr. Couture was confidential to the Mayor and Council Members of the Village, and to Mr. Couture,” the letter states. “Chief and Council has also confirmed that information was at that time, unknown to any member of Chief and Council of the Band, the Band Manager or any of the employees of the Tim Hortons.”
The letter claims that “This breach of confidentiality by one of your Council Members has caused substantial prejudice to the Band … [which] has been deprived of the opportunity to make a public disclosure about the change in management at the Tim Hortons, at the time and in the manner most advantageous to that business. This breach of confidentiality also threatens the working relationship between your Village and our Band.”
The matter has been turned over to the Band’s lawyer for “advice on the [courses] of action which the Band may have. We look forward in the meantime, to your written advice as to any sanctions placed against Ms Pittman by your Council for the breach of confidentiality.”
At the start of the Aug. 3 meeting, Mayor Santo Talarico noted that a union grievance would normally be discussed during an in camera meeting, but that the employees and the union had requested a presentation during the open, public portion of the meeting. Later, he also noted that the Band had asked for their letter to be placed in an open meeting, and that the village’s legal counsel had advised that both matters could form part of the public meeting. He also said that no questions or discussion of either item — by council or members of the public — would be entertained.
After Talarico introduced Railton and the latter began speaking, Pittman interrupted, attempting to have both the items concerning her moved to closed session. The request was ignored.
A motion to refer the letter to the village’s lawyers was passed, with Pittman opposed.
Pittman said that she was under legal counsel advising her not to make any comment.