Article in the Ottawa Citizen exposes cause of problems at RCMP

A recent article in the Ottawa Citizen is shining the light on the cause of the current toxic environment at the RCMP.

We have reproduced the article in question, in its entirety, below.

Toxic workplace created at RCMP, union charges

Complaint cites ‘constant attacks’

by Chris Cobb, Ottawa Citizen February 21, 2012

The RCMP’s internal staff association is creating “a toxic workplace” for the force’s thousands of civilian workers in a desperate effort at self preservation, a leading public service union is charging.

The union’s attack is the latest salvo in an ongoing war over the RCMP’s controversial and complex labour relations structure that is undergoing yet another internal review and is the subject of a potentially game-changing court challenge.

The Union of Solicitor General Employees accuses the RCMP’s taxpayer-subsidized Staff Relations Representatives (SRRs) of “constant attacks and degrading comments” against almost 7,000 public-service employees.

“These attacks, using the employer’s electronic equipment and distributed to every desk within the organization, have done nothing but create a toxic work environment for the public-service employees and no doubt for the civilian members the SRR purportedly represent,” union president John Edmunds said.

There are three classifications of employee in the RCMP: more than 19,000 police officers; 3,700 civilian members and the public service employees.

Under current RCMP classifications, the civilian members are distinct from the public service members, whose work is designated less skilled. Civilian workers are employed in skilled support areas such as forensics, security technology, criminal intelligence and operating the force’s fleet of aircraft. Public service employees are more likely to be administrative and clerical staff.

The public-service workers are represented by one of five public service unions, but the bulk — 6,098 — belong to the Solicitor General Employees, which is a division of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

The union, funded by member dues, claims the SRR program is costing taxpayers about $30 million a year and, because it ultimately reports to management, is ineffective.

SRR denies both claims.

At the heart of the increasingly bitter dispute between PSAC and the SRR is – initially at least – who represents the civilian workers who are currently under the SRR umbrella.

Although civilian workers are engaged in specialized tasks that directly support law enforcement, the union says many are doing jobs that have equivalent designations in the public service and in practical terms there is little distinction between the two groups.

The tension is increasing for two reasons: an appeals court decision expected in weeks; and an internal review of job classifications, which SRR members fear could re-classify the civilian workers as public service employees, a move that RCMP brass under new Commissioner Bob Paulson appear to favour.

“While we appreciate the attributes Public Service Employees (PSEs) afford the organization, the RCMP is unique, and it is our membership both Regular and Civilian that makes it so,” Ross Gorman, chair of the SRR National Staffing Committee, said in a memo to members last month.

“We believe this uniqueness must be recognized and protected.”

It is these and other alleged denigrations of the public service employees’ work that the PSAC union is objecting to.

The RCMP appealed a 2009 Ontario Court judgment that ruled current RCMP entrenchment of the SRR program as the sole representative of officers denied members’ constitutional rights to freedom of association.

The challenge to the SRR was launched and won by the Mounted Police Professional Association, a new union of some 2,000 members that the RCMP refuses to recognize.

Retired officer Rob Creasser, spokesman for the association, said that the SRR was “part of the chain of command and was imposed on the membership in 1974 in a clear attempt to prevent members from having a choice.”

If the original decision is upheld, Creaser predicts the government will appeal to the Supreme Court.

“They clearly don’t want the RCMP to have the same rights as every other police force in Canada,” he said.

Abe Townsend, a member of the SRR national executive, rejected union claims that his team of 43 fulltime members had been disparaging to public-service employees.

“We value their contribution,” he said, “but it is a different contribution (to civilian members).”

Townsend denied the SRR program costs $30 million and said $8 million to $9 million was more accurate.

RCMP members are happy with the SRR, he added.

“As a representative body we want what the members want,” he said, “and, if it wasn’t effective, I as a serving member would be the first to say, ‘I’m going back to police work.’ The SRR program is supported by RCMP, not controlled. There’s a difference.”

Union leader Edmunds said the RCMP should cut the SRR program and allow members to be represented by “independent” unions.

“The Canadian taxpayer should not be asked — nor obliged — to shoulder this excessive financial burden.”

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