Three B.C. Place Stadium workers excluded from workplace inclusivity training sessions have accused the public-owned stadium’s management of discrimination.
Heavy duty mechanic Salim Kesani, who has worked at the stadium since 2004, complained to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) in 2020 after being told he was left out for negative comments about management. Technician Bill Bains and ex-mechanic Shane Hussein also filed complaints over the exclusion.
“This is a very toxic environment. It's so toxic, it's almost nuclear,” Kesani said.
The jobs of all three were reclassified when management merged two departments, a bureaucratic move that the three men say deprived them of pay raises between $2 and $5 per hour.
No hearing date has been set. Bains, Hussein and Kesani say the B.C. Pavilion Corp. (PavCo)-retained lawyer from the labour relations firm Harris and Co. has slowed down their cases.
Kesani complained to Premier John Horgan and Labour Minister Harry Bains on May 2, but said he received no response. The ministry communications office said Bains had no comment on the letter, because “human rights issues are handled by the independent Human Rights Tribunal.”
Kesani said working conditions have deteriorated since 2010 when the stadium hosted Winter Olympics ceremonies and temporarily closed for a major renovation and roof replacement.
“If it's not racism, it must be some other kind of discrimination,” Kesani said. “Maybe they don't like your face, or maybe they don't like the way you look. But there is a degree of discrimination, in one way or the other.”
In a January 2022 affidavit about Kesani, B.C. Place human resources and labour relations director Wayne Smith said training held in October and November 2019 for approximately 450 employees covered respect, bullying, harassment, diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias. According to Smith, colour or race had nothing to do with deeming four workers unwelcome.
“The decision not to invite the complainant and the other three employees was due to their demonstrated negativity towards B.C. Place management and their behaviour in previous group meetings,” said Smith’s affidavit.
The affidavit said Smith provided Kesani a copy of the materials used in the training session at a meeting in November 2019. It also made a reference to Kesani apologizing at that meeting to Nick Montpetit, the senior facility operations manager, for calling him a liar at a focus group. But no other incidents were mentioned. In Kesani’s response, he maintains that employees were encouraged to speak freely at the specific meeting about an employee engagement survey.
Smith’s affidavit also claimed two of the four excluded workers are Caucasian.
However, Bains, Hussein and Kesani are South Asian.
Bains, a B.C. Place worker since 1984, said in his complaint that the exclusion from inclusivity training made him feel unworthy of learning, development, support and safety. He also had complained about someone using his name in workplace graffiti in order to insult him.
On the pay issue, electricians, plumbers and HVAC employees were reclassified from trades to technicians in late November 2019 when maintenance and engineering and facility operations divisions were merged. The stadium and B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) agreed on five new classifications and wage rates.
“The objective was to build one skilled team with facility operations to work on the preventative maintenance program, including complex and proprietary systems,” said the Smith affidavit. “This team is comprised of the [full-time] conversion specialists and tradespeople. Conversion specialists need to be trained on preventative maintenance, and the tradespeople are responsible for that training.”
Conversion specialists work to change the stadium setup between soccer, football, concert and trade show modes.
BCGEU spokesperson Erin Sikora said the union would not comment without worker consent. After Selani consented, Sikora said the union could not comment because it was not representing him at the HRT. PavCo CEO Ken Cretney did not respond for comment.
Bains did not seek union help with his human rights complaint, because the BCGEU was involved in the reclassification deal with management. He disputes Smith’s allegations of insubordination and disrespect and has filed multiple grievances over his treatment.
“They were trying to force me out,” Bains said.
Hussein worked 15 years at B.C. Place and said he was fired after missing work to care for his ill wife and daughter in January and to work at his other job on SkyTrain. His dispute has gone to arbitration.
BCGEU workers at the stadium rejected a new contract offer last fall, but reached a new deal in February after mediation. It includes pay increases retroactive to 2020.