Black workers with HRM, who allege they are the target of anti-Black racist bullying by management, will be attending a rally organized by a Black activist who’s been advocating on their behalf.

The rally takes place on Friday at noon in front of City Hall. Raymond Sheppard, who organized the event, organized a similar rally outside of City Hall in 2018.

“One of the main issues here is that these workers of African descent are complaining that there’s a two-tiered disciplinary action [system] when it comes to employment with HRM,” said Sheppard in an interview with the Halifax Examiner

“People of European descent are sort of looked upon as being better-than, treated better than, and believed 110% of the time whereas [the workers of African descent] are not. And they are hurting as a result of that.”

A Black man wearing a black vest over a grey sweater.
Raymond Sheppard organized the rally in support of Black workers with the HRM.

The Examiner spoke to several of the workers who described instances where they and their coworkers were subjected to racism, harassment, microaggressions, and other forms of mistreatment by white members of upper management. The Examiner is not naming the workers, who fear they will be targeted for speaking out.

They described a system of double standards in the workplace when it comes to them and their white co-workers. 

“Racism is real, microaggression is real, micromanagement is real, and verbal abuse is real,” one of the workers told the Examiner. “We’ve been drained physically, and emotionally … it’s like we are on our last straw. We try to reach out for help and as people of African descent, it seems like there’s no help for us.”

Sheppard said the workers are worried about their jobs because they know of other Black workers who’ve been relieved of their duties for reasons they said are unjustified. 

“We’re always the last hired and the first fired,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard said the Black workers feel they face more discipline compared to their white co-workers.

Black workers penalized, accused of ‘stealing’ time

The workers talked specifically about being constantly reminded about cameras and GPS systems in their work vehicles and warned about “stealing” time.

They said when white co-workers are considerably late, management will proactively offer them the option to have the missed time docked from personal hours they’ve already accumulated. The Black workers said when they are late by a few minutes — and even on occasions where they are on time or very early, but perceived or falsely accused of being late — they are instead disciplined and written up, even in instances when other co-workers vouch for them being early or on time.

A group of African Nova Scotian employees of Halifax Regional Municipality gathered for a protest in front of city hall in May 2018. The group was calling on the municipality to implement the recommendations of a 2016 report that found racial discrimination within the municipality. Photo: Zane Woodford

The workers described a situation where one worker took time off in advance of a medical appointment only to be harassed over the telephone by management and asked about their whereabouts while in the waiting room of the appointment.

They said unlike their white co-workers they are required to provide a note from their doctor and also denied time off for ongoing physical injuries.

The Black workers said they are often passed over for training opportunities. They said on several occasions they asked management about advanced training opportunities only to later learn later that training sessions came and went and they were not informed. They said their white coworkers were informed about, and received, the advanced skills training.

They cited specific sections of HRM harassment and discrimination policy that they said blatantly contradicts their work experience with HRM.

“Right now, I know my job is on the line because I’m speaking out,” said one of the workers. “So, because I’m actually speaking out, I’ve been penalized, I’ve been called out, I’ve been singled out. And that’s not fair.”

“It’s reached a point where I can’t take it anymore.”

HRM says racism allegations ‘taken very seriously’

In an email to the Examiner about the allegations from the workers, Caroline Blair-Smith, deputy chief administrative officer of HRM Corporate Services said, in part:

Allegations of racism and discrimination within our organization are taken very seriously and we are committed to taking meaningful steps to address these concerns.

As an organization, we have taken numerous strides in recent years to improve our resources, training, and policies across the organization, so as to raise awareness of the racialized issues and adversity faced by African Nova Scotians and those of African descent and combat the ongoing barriers to equity and inclusion still present within our communities and our organization. We also acknowledge that much work still needs to be done and we remain committed to addressing anti-Black racism.

Blair-Smith also listed what she described as several “recent steps taken by the municipality to combat racism,” including a Diversity & Inclusion/African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office, offering several anti-Black racism training programs for HRM staff; and an Aspiring Leaders Program “designed to help individuals develop their leadership skills” in which seats were reserved solely for Black employees. She also said in January recruiting will start for an African Descent Advisory committee.

Despite the city’s efforts, the Black HRM workers the Examiner interviewed said their treatment remains the same.

“HRM speaks about diversity and inclusion but no such thing is there,” one worker said. “They are just saying it to look good.”

Working toward a resolution

In a separate statement to the Examiner, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage wrote, in part:

Concerns from an unknown number of Black employees about racism in their workplaces have been brought to my attention through a third party acting in an advocacy role. These concerns were shared by my office with senior administrative leaders responsible for Human Resources and Diversity and Inclusion. Like me, they believe this matter warrants serious attention and they have taken steps to learn more about the issues raised by the employees.

Though she did not mention Sheppard by name, Blair-Smith confirmed she was part of a meeting with a Black activist recently where he advocated on the workers’ behalf.

“Prior to the meeting with this individual, some of our African Nova Scotian employees had already raised issues and union representative, along with management, met with them to hear firsthand their concerns and to work with their supervisors to resolve the issues,” said Blair-Smith.

Sheppard confirmed he attended a meeting with Blair-Smith. He said while the meeting went well, it’s only the first step in properly addressing issues of anti-Black racism and discrimination within HRM management.

“One person of African descent had a difficult time, up until this meeting that I had, accessing the EAP program, which is the Employment Assistance Program,” said Sheppard. “He was going through traumatic episodes when he was waking up late at night and couldn’t get back to sleep and so on.”

Sheppard said he finds it odd the vice-president and president of the union that represents the workers is having meetings all this week following his meeting with HRM officials.

“Which I suspect to be honest,” Sheppard said. “And then, the management, now that they’ve got the inkling that we’re doing this, that, or the other, they’re holding a meeting with the workers of African descent, all of a sudden, on Thursday [prior to Friday’s noon rally].”

A graphic that says Funded by Canada

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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  1. I’m a long time HRM employee who spent years observing, not participating, in some non union management bullying employees. I constantly reported it.
    It has come to a head. The Mayor, the Deputy CAO and the new CAO are aware. Employees are not going to continue putting up with autocratic management. They are civil servants. Training will fix it. It’s 2022 folks…