Protesters lined the block outside the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS)’s hospital on Saturday afternoon, holding signs decrying workplace bullying.
About 25 former employees, volunteers and their friends and family joined the silent protest, outside the organization’s animal hospital off Westminster Highway in the auto mall complex.
“Over the last five years, our issues are that there’s just been excessive firing and bullying here at RAPS, to the point where we just had to get out here and do something,” said spokesperson Carol Reichert, who founded RAPS in the 1980s.
In a statement, RAPS CEO and executive director, Eyal Lichtmann, denied the allegations.
“The RAPS organization will not tolerate any form of unacceptable actions, including bullying and harassment, or other forms of inappropriate behaviour by staff,” he said.
Reichert – speaking to the News over the phone from the protest – said that, for example, “numerous intimidating letters” have been sent out by management.
“They say that if you have any input into something, a policy that should possibly done differently…you seal your own doom. If you come to work to complain about anything, you can be guaranteed that you would be gone.”
That’s left a workplace where “nobody is willing to talk,” as employees – including those who have been recently fired – are “so fearful.”
The employees, she said, don’t even speak to each other at work, “because they don’t know who to trust, and they all feel that they’re the next one.”
“That’s what I had expressed to me.”
Lichtmann, however, said that RAPS has grown “dramatically, but sustainably,” since it was first founded – and particularly over the past five years.
“Over this time, and unsurprisingly, a small number of individuals who were accustomed to a highly informal organizational structure have not adapted to a format that is collegial but which also applies the sound management principles that are necessary for a growing and now sizeable organization,” he said.
Reichert retired six years ago, but said since then the firings – carried out by the new management – have been going on “continuously.”
She said in the first 20 years at RAPS, when she was at the helm, there was one dismissal. Meanwhile, in the past five years, there’s “been between 40 and 50.”
“I get the calls almost every time there’s been a demotion or a firing. And when I got a call to ask to join the protest, I was only too happy to step up and say, enough is enough.”
According to Reichert, RAPS employees voted to join CUPE about seven to eight months ago and are now in the process of working out their first agreement.
But, she said, the firing has escalated during that time, adding that three people were fired in the same day last week.
Lichtmann said that, as the organization has grown, its efforts have been “persistently undermined” by “a very small group of apparently congenitally disgruntled former supporters.”
Some of these individuals, Lichtmann said, were dismissed, for cause, from RAPS.
“Over the years, we have listened to and responded to their concerns. They are uncompromising,” he said.
“We are disheartened that a small number of individuals place their personal grievances and territorial instincts above the larger mission of the organization.”