MONTREAL — Some Montreal blue collar workers called on Friday for their union to be investigated for alleged racial bias, telling a news conference they need to be reassured the leadership is up to the task of representing them.
The workers said they sent a letter to the provincial branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees asking it to investigate its Montreal local, after one of the local's vice-presidents recently resigned over racist social media posts.
"Those revelations … created among my colleagues who are Haitian, Arab, African and other nationalities, a deep worry about how our complaints about racism and a toxic work environment are dealt with," Hakilm Tali Mamar, a city worker for 21 years, told reporters.
Tali Mamar said he wonders if the former executive's social media posts are indicative of deeper problems with union leadership.
"Who will defend us? The employer will never take our complaints seriously," Tali Mamar said.
On May 9 union leadership said Gaétan Archambault had resigned after his alleged racist and Islamophobic posts came to light, adding that the local had zero tolerance for discrimination and racism. His posts reportedly included complaints about the "Islamization" of a Quebec university, and suggestions that human traffickers from Afghanistan were immigrating to the province and "don't have our values and don't want French."
The provincial union did not respond Friday to a request seeking comment on the letter or next steps.
Gino Clyford Lubérisse said the local executive must be placed under trusteeship if the provincial union deems it necessary. Lubérisse, a union delegate and city worker for 20 years, said Archambault's social media comments were "liked" by others in the local union hierarchy.
"We are asking the (provincial union) to do an inquiry on the executive and the local to be sure we're not going to repeat history," he said. "We just want to be sure that we're on the right track; that's why we're asking for the intervention, just to reassure the members."
Those members are also marking the two-year anniversary of a 2021 report that described a racist and toxic work environment against visible minorities in the Montréal-Nord borough.
Members say that while the borough has created committees to address racism and provided workers with diversity training, more needs to be done to implement the recommendations.
Fo Niemi, with non-profit civil rights group Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, is assisting some of the workers. While those present at Friday's news conference were from Montréal-Nord, he said there are many racialized city workers across the city with the same concerns.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press