‘Ottawa’ Toronto Star Puts Hold on Review Into Workplace Culture After Union Withdraws Support: Memo
The Toronto Star said in a memo to its newsroom employees that it was putting a hold on a proposed review into workplace culture, after the Star’s union of employees withdrew its support for the process.
Last week, the Star announced to staff that it would conduct an “independent facilitation process review” of the newsroom’s culture. This followed a call last month by the union that represents the newspaper’s employees for an independent investigation in the wake of reporter Raveena Aulakh’s suicide and the events surrounding her death.
“The union has publicly called for an ‘independent investigation’ of the newsroom’s ‘poisonous workplace’ where ‘harassment’ and ‘bullying’ are rife,” wrote Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke and TorStar Char John Honderich on July 13. “The union’s assessment is not our view. But in recent conversations with newsroom staff, we have heard legitimate concerns raised and questions posed.”
Cooke and Honderich wrote to their staff again on Friday, and said that the proposed facilitation review had been “put on hold” because the union wanted material that could arise from the process to be accessible for its use in a separate grievance it has filed against the Star. “The company is strongly opposed” they wrote. “If the facilitation is to work, staff must feel comfortable to speak confidentially and openly.”
The union filed a grievance to ask for an full independent investigation into Aulakh’s death, as well as “workplace health and safety, and harassment issues.” The Star has steadfastly opposed these calls, with its VP of Human Resources rejecting them in a June memo to staff. Daly said that he and Alan Bower, the Star’s executive director of labour relations had Daly said that the Star had investigated the matter “thoroughly and objectively and taken appropriate and necessary action.”
As a result of the Star’s investigations, Daly said in a memo that two senior editors, Jon Filson and Jane Davenport, “lost their jobs in the newsroom.” Filson is no longer employed by the Star, while Davenport has moved to a role outside the newsroom.
The Star’s public editor Kathy English said on June 7 that Aulakh alleged in e-mails that Filson had entered into an inappropriate relationship in the workplace with Davenport, his boss, while he was also in a relationship with her.
The Star said its investigations also determined its policies about workplace relationships and conflicts of interest needed to be “amplified” and that its staff should have better access to HR.
Below is the full text of today’s memo, from TorStar Chair John Honderich and Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke:
From: Cooke, Michael
Sent: Friday, July 22, 2016 5:02 PM
Subject: FW: important note
To all newsroom staff:
Last week, we proposed and the union agreed to a joint process for an independent facilitator to help us examine current newsroom culture.
Today we regret to report the union has withdrawn its support, writing that the proposed agreement “is not in the best interest of its members.”
The point of contention surrounds the use of interviews and material that would inevitably arise from this process.
The union insists that it be able to use all such material in the separate grievance it has launched. The company is strongly opposed.
If the facilitation is to work, staff must feel comfortable to speak confidentially and openly. If they know their words could be used in a grievance or they could be called to testify, we believe this could cause a chill and jeopardize the overall process.
There is simply no way we can agree to this condition.
As you know, we were very anxious to find out if the union’s claims of a toxic workplace where bullying and harassment are rife had any merit, and if there were ways to improve the way we work.
Now with the union’s rejection, based upon all of the above, this will not be feasible.
This means, with very much regret, we must put a hold on any process.
John Honderich -Chair, Torstar Corporation
Michael Cooke – Editor, Toronto Star