Don Brazier

My name is Donald Vaughan Brazier and currently I am the Director of Labor

Relations of the St Lawrence and Hudson Railway. The railway has about 5000

employees and operates on an east-west axis from Montreal, QC to Chicago

IL. On a north-south basis the operation goes from Montreal to Washington

DC. About 75% of the business in generated in Canada, the rest in the US.

The US operation is run out of Cliton Park NY, 15 miles north of Albany.

 

I was born in Paisley, Scotland on September 01, 1942, of a Scottish

mother and English father. My grade schooling was done in England. In 1956,

the family moved to Canada. I finished my schooling there. I have a BSc

from Dalhousie University in Halifax NS and I did graduate work at Carleton

U. in Ottawa, ON.

 

I guess I drifted through high school and college without any clear

picture of what I wanted to do. I always had some interest in labor since I

was a kid because my father was active in the labor movement. (This was

back in the days when union officials were invariably called "commies").

In college I was active in what back in those days may have been called

left of center groups - organizations which in the tight assed late fifties

were pretty suspect. (As you can see I predate the commotion on college

campuses caused by the Vietnam War).

 

After I graduated from college I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I ended

up doing research work for a couple of government type organizations,

research primarily in labor issues. I had been at this for about six years

or so when one of my colleagues heard about an opening for a labor

relations officer at a railroad company. This was in 1970. I have worked

there ever since.

 

Throughout the 1970's, as you know , there was much emphasis on civil

rights and AA. My company was no different. We set a specific function

within Industrial Relations to deal with discrimination and related

matters. Over the years the function expanded and in 1983 I was made

Assistant Vice-President, Industrial Relations, whose responsibilities

included this function.

 

At first, to me, this was just an add-on to my duties, since my principal

duties related to labor relations. But since I was responsible I undertook

to learn about the issue. The more I learned, the more I became concerned

with first, justice in the workplace and, on a broader basis, justice in

the community as a whole. Under my leadership, this function greatly

expanded. We introduced training programs and seminars. We encouraged

individual employees to come to us on a confidential basis to deal with

problems.

 

I discovered that there was a great deal of fear in the Company by women

employees and the few minorities we had in our employ - railroads are not

large employers of blacks and East Indians. However, these employees were

scared to complain about unjust treatment and discrimination, since they

felt that if they complained they would be fired.

 

We, of course, changed that. We got buy in from senior management to give

these issues high focus. We expanded the resources available to help

employees in need. To this day we are continually being requested to help

groups of employees and managers to combat the problem. We have come a long

way since 1983, when I took over, but we have a long way to go.

 

Over the years I have seen a lot of injustice in the workplace and I have

also seen a lot of racist and bigoted managers who should have been fired.

If I am proud of anything in particular it has been to develop an

environment where employees know that they don't have to put up with this

type of treatment and who also know that if they come to our department any

complaint will be fully investigated and, where necessary, corrective

action will be taken. I am also proud of the steps we have taken to reduce

sexual harassment. Every woman knows that she does not have to put with

this. Fifteen years ago I found women living in the most unbelievably

hostile work situation because they had nobody to turn to. Blacks are

another group that were extremely poorly treated and who had to daily live

with racial slurs. They now know they can get help, too.

 

My other great area of interest is employee safety. There are industries

that have higher accident rates than rail transportation but railway safety

is of significant social concern because so many railroad accidents also

cause death and injury to the public.. I am sure everyone can recall such

an accident - and likely it was not that long ago!

 

In my 25 years with my present employer I have some grotesque accidents,

including employees being crushed to death by rolling box cars. One

trainman slipped when climbing on a moving train and her leg was cut off

just below the hip by a moving car. One other accident involved an

employee who fell feet first from the top of a freight car. The impact on

the ground forced his legs into his torso, crushing several organs.

 

I have used these examples not to be gory but to show the importance of

safety. Unfortunately, greater world wide competition - along with

deregulation - have resulted in less attention being paid to safety. As a

result accident rates have started to creep up. I am glad to be able to

say that most companies in the industry have noticed this and are taking

action to reduce accidents.

There is a parallel between a commitment to safety in the workplace and the

work of WAVE. Employers who do not take the steps to provide a safe and

healthy workplace are condemning their employees to potential violence,

either through death or permanent disability.

 

I am not going to suggest that the working conditions are perfect. However,

I am proud of the bit I have done to make life a lot more bearable for a

lot of people.

 

The biggest influences in my life. First of all, my parents for instilling

in me a basic sense of right and wrong, of fairness and recognition of the

dignity of the individual. I also had a boss, Alton Craig who taught me

how to balance work with family. As he said, nobody ever put on a

gravestone "He spent his life at the office".. Jack McGuire, my first boss

at my current company taught me the essentials of labor relations and how

to treat employees fairly.

 

If I have one regret it is that now, as a result of a corporate

reorganization, I am completely out of human rights and discrimination

issues. That has been passed on to another department. There is still a lot

to do and I still believe I had an important role to play. Now, however,

my job is strictly labor relations. I wish the new managers well. I also

wish I was involved.

 

However, even if I don't have the job responsibility anymore I have

learned enough about the problem to know that whereas in some ways we

making progress, in other aspects, especially as our society is becoming

more culturally diversified we are now seeing other problems that were not

part of the public conscious fifteen years ago. One of the most significant

of these issues is spousal abuse. It was not long ago it was considered

that a husband had a "right" to beat his wife, in fact, she was practically

considered his property.

 

Just as we think we are civilized, something comes along to show that we

are not.

 

WAVE

 

I happen to believe that the problem of social violence and similar

problems are often linked to workplace

behavior. If you are bigot in the workplace, you are likely to be the same

at home. I have found that hate is

rarely only directed at one group. Men who hate Jews, Blacks etc, etc,

usually have a similar attitude to many

other groups, including women. The workplace is violent, too as most

people are are aware. We have had

assaults take place over racial matters and sexual harassment; this latter

is perhaps that most pervasive workplace problem that now exists and often

takes the form of assault. If an employee is of the temperament to assault

a female employee - and as we know, sexual harassment is rarely about sex,

it is about power - he will have no compunctions about assaulting his

wife.

 

When I first was given the human rights portfolio I was appalled at the

treatment given to women and racial

and other minorities. I like to think that over that years I have made the

workplace a generally a better place to

work in. As a result of a reorganization in the Company a few months ago

my responsibilities were changed

to pure labor relations But I do have this passion for fairness and equity

and I was so inspired by what Karyl

was doing I felt the need to help in some way. That is when she told me

about WAVE.

 

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