Staffer silence for speaking out
BY MIKE POWER
A letter to the editor that was published in the Ottawa Citizen has gotten its author, an Algonquin College support staff worker, suspended without pay for 30 days.
Sandy Green-Anderson was suspended for a month without pay for her comments in the January 27 issue of the Ottawa Citizen. In the letter, Green-Anderson accuses the college of wasteful spending, having a policy of not allowing overtime, and being negligent regarding the management’s relationship with workers.
The suspension is an unprecedented discipline for a first infraction and an attempt to “put their thumb down on the support staff.” According to OPSEU Local 415 President Jan Strickland. “I’ve never seen something like this.” She said.
The letter ran on January 27, a Friday, and the following Monday had what has been characterized as an “investigatory” meeting with the college. On Tuesday Jan 31, Green-Anderson was notified in writing that she was being suspended .
In the letter of suspension, Gerry Barker, Vice President Human Resources, characterizes Green-Anderson’s letter as “highly disparaging, [containing] numerous falsehoods and is damaging to the reputation of the College and its management team.”
Barker further claims that Green-Anderson’s letter is damaging enough to warrant her “immediate termination for cause” but that “in light of [Green-Anderson’s] years of service with the College and [her] employee record, we have decided to issue [her] a suspension in the hopes that [she] can be a responsible and productive employee despite this incident.”
The letter goes on to state that “no further actions of this nature will be tolerated and should there be a repeat of this type of unfounded public commentary, we will have no choice but to terminate [her] employment from the College. Please be advised that this extends not only to the media but also social media and networking sites.”
Ottawa & District Labour Council president Sean McKenny says he believes that the college’s actions are evidence of an “employer trying to bully the workers.” McKenny also says that Green-Anderson has done nothing but exercise her freedom of speech. “There’s nothing [bad] in the letter, just facts that can be verified.”
When contacted by the Times, Barker stated that he supports employees’ rights to freedom of speech but “you cross the line in terms of freedom of speech when you make comments that are unfounded, untruthful and that tarnish the reputation of the institution.”
The president of the Ontario Public Employees Union, Warren “Smokey” Thomas believes that some employees may feel threatened by the college’s decision to suspend Green-Anderson, but that OPSEU will be there to support its members. “Now you get war,” said Thomas. “They woke up a sleeping giant.”