Allegations of Racial Slurs By AECON Employees Surface in First Nations Worker’s Dismissal

A First Nations worker was recently terminated from his position at the Saint Mary’s overpass project in South Winnipeg, Manitoba. Allegations have emerged regarding discriminatory remarks and unequal treatment during the incident, all of which remain alleged.

While working on the overpass project, the worker said he was dismissed after raising concerns about current union benefits and wages compared to industry standards. However, according to the worker, instead of receiving clarification about his inquiries, he was abruptly told by AECON’s site superintendent and foreman that he was being let go for “talking about other unions,” a justification he found to be unfair and unjust.

Furthermore, when he inquired about receiving his minimum 3-hour show-up pay, he was met with a comment from the site superintendent and foreman that he found racist. The remark, “These Natives out here, oh boy, they are always crying and wanting more.” This type of language and allegations highlight the systemic racism and discrimination often said to be faced by Indigenous members in the workplace.

The treatment further exacerbated the worker’s dismissal and the allegations of racist comments he said he received when retrieving his tools and equipment from the job site. He was escorted by the foreman and then subjected to a search of his belongings under the guise of preventing theft. This treatment left him feeling profoundly offended and disrespected, especially considering his status as a skilled carpenter who had been on the job site for over a month without any incidents and was elected by his peers as a job steward.

We contacted AECON for comments on the allegations but did not receive a response.

After his termination, the worker indicated a union representative of CLAC reached out to him; however, he expressed discomfort and skepticism about their intentions, not feeling that his best interests would be prioritized based on how he thought they handled a previous dismissal of another worker.

“We are aware of an incident that occurred with this employer and that some deeply troubling allegations have been made.  The matter is being investigated and is the subject of an ongoing grievance filed by CLAC.  We cannot comment on the specifics of this matter as it involves privacy considerations and an ongoing investigation. It should be noted that CLAC has filed grievances on behalf of its members and an unfair labour practice application against this employer in the recent past and will continue its strong advocacy on behalf of its members.  Until this investigation and grievance process are complete, this will be our final comment on this matter.” Nathan Koslowsky, CLAC Representative

This incident can be seen as a challenging workplace, unequal treatment, and lack of perceived accountability. He also noted an imbalance between out-of-town and local skilled tradespeople on the job site, expressing a desire for more representation from Manitoba and Indigenous individuals. Additionally, he felt that tasks assigned to First Nations often differed from those given to others.

This highlights the critical need for employers, unions, and policymakers to address systemic issues, review their discrimination measures, and ensure that all employees receive fair treatment and respect, regardless of their background. This may entail companies reevaluating their policies concerning First Nations and discrimination.

In the spirit of reconciliation, it is imperative that the province’s First Nations community feels they are an integral part of this significant, multi-year project, valued for their contributions. This endeavour, spanning millions of dollars, holds the potential to benefit all Manitobans. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize employment opportunities for Manitobans, ensuring inclusivity and equitable participation in the project’s success.