Don McConnell, 61, said he has a bad taste in his mouth after leaving the city and his 30-year-career in the bylaws sector.
McConnell was hoping to retire at age 65. However, amidst restructuring of the bylaws department, McConnell accepted 10 weeks’ severance and no longer works for the city — having departed at the beginning of the year, four years earlier than planned.
McConnell said he chose severance among three options offered because the work environment had become, in his view, “toxic” due to internal conflicts, mismanagement, grievances, arbitration, stress, workload and new physical requirements for the job he believes were brought in to intentionally displace staff.
“I have no problem with change,” McConnell told KTW. “You do it the right way.”
CUPE Local 900 president Carmen Sullivan said 11 of 30 union members (bylaws officers and custodial guards) affected by the restructuring have been displaced. Staff had the choice of severance, moving departments or applying for the new community service officer role.
Four chose severance and seven have been placed elsewhere at the city, Sullivan said. Of those who chose to apply for the new role, a physical assessment, called the Community Services Officers’ Physical Assessment Test (CSOPAT) is required.
Sullivan said five members have so far passed the physical test.
The city is allowing three attempts to pass and is providing training for those who again need to take the test. Two of the three fitness test dates have taken place, with the final date, and last chance to pass for those who failed the first two attempts, set for this summer.
Sullivan described the number of people who have passed so far as “low,” noting the union has “huge concerns.”
Sullivan said that in talking to staff, the physical benchmark does not match the work. She said at no time would staff need to be able to do a burpee or jump hurdles. Instead, she said skills needed for the job include communication and de-escalation of a tense situation.
“When I think of going down the embankment into the transient camp, if there was a log or a fallen tree, at no time would our members be expected to hurdle it,” Sullivan said.
“They would walk around it. They would climb over it. They would assess their surroundings and they would maintain their footing. They would not be running down the embankment at full speed.
“If there was something urgent and emergent happening down there, the RCMP would be called because our members — following the city’s safe work practices — are not allowed to physically engage,” Sullivan said. “They’re not allowed to put themselves in those positions. They’d be breaching the policies of the city.”
Sullivan said the city is anticipating changes to the Police Act, giving bylaws (community services) officers more enforcement abilities, including handcuff training and detention.
Community services manager Tammy Blundell said the municipality is focused on the department’s restructuring as a way to make better, well-rounded employees with both physical and mental capabilities. She said the role has changed from issuing parking tickets to one that deals with social issues, graffiti, nuisance properties and more.
McConnell, the now-retired bylaws officer, said they were already trained to deal with social issues and other scenarios cited by the city as the reason for restructuring. He said bylaws officers have been dealing with transient camps for 20 years.
Blundell said some components of the job were not part of the job description, which she said has since been expanded. McConnell, however, argued “other related duties” were always part of bylaw officers’ job description.
Both McConnell and Sullivan see the new physical test as a way for the city to circumvent the collective agreement and eliminate staff. Sullivan said the city wants a “new face” of the bylaws department, arguing the fitness test — a timed endeavor in which anything slower than 3:20 is failure — discriminates against employees based on age and pre-existing health conditions.
Sullivan said there were employees in their 50s, 60s, and even one in their early 70s, who chose not to apply for the new job. Blundell denies the city is deliberately trying to get rid of staff.
“Absolutely not,” Blundell said. “And that’s a hard no. It is about the community … and evolving the role.”
There is legal precedence for deeming physical assessments discriminatory.
In 1994, Tawney Meiorin lost her job as a forest firefighter in B.C. after running 2.5 kilometres in 11 minutes and 49 seconds, 49 seconds past the 11-minute deadline to finish.
Meiorin eventually won a six-year battle when the Supreme Court of Canada concluded she was a victim of sex discrimination.
Meiorin had argued the fitness test was discriminatory because women have less aerobic capacity than men.
KTW asked Blundell if the city’s fitness test is discriminatory.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” she said. “At the end of the day, if an individual wants to participate in this role, it doesn’t matter what age, sex, gender, whatever race they are. If they want to do it, they will do it and we will help them do it.”
Arbitration this summer will not centre around discrimination, but whether the role has changed enough to warrant the fitness test.
The two parties differ on that opinion. While Blundell maintains the roles are “substantially” different,
Sullivan said the union will submit during arbitration in August that the work has not changed.
Blundell said the city has supported staff in the transition, noting enhanced module training has been provided for the expanded role, as well as physical fitness training. She said it is a matter of “opinion” as to whether an officer should need to be able to jump hurdles and do burpees.
“The community and the city need officers that are able to perform and be able to deal with those stressful parts of the job and be able to manage that,” she said.