By Andrew Regnerus
Special to Ontario Construction Report
There were the inappropriate text messages. Shoulder massages. Pointed comments and stares in the lunchroom.
Things that, sadly, she had gotten used to in her construction career. She learned quickly to laugh off the jokes and jibes, to be “one of the boys,” to bite her tongue unless she wanted to get blacklisted as a troublemaker on site and forfeit her career.
It culminated in a private meeting in the job shack. Her superintendent held the door open and followed her in. But not before locking the door. She’d heard the unmistakeable click. Then it happened: He offered a bribe, with company money in return for a “personal favour.”
Thankfully, she had the presence of mind to take defensive action, which prevented a tragic outcome. But damage was done all the same and she suffered trauma. This man disrespected her not only as an equal human being, but as a tradesperson and valued contributor to the enterprise.
Adding insult to injury, the system paralyzed her—she couldn’t report the incident for fear no one would believe her, or worse, that they’d blame her in some way. “You should have spoken up before,” they’d say. Or that familiar refrain: “Did you encourage him?”
Or the company would let her go for causing trouble. She’d worked too hard to be blacklisted because the system punishes victims.
As she shared her story, the empathizing audience of primarily older men heard her pain and felt disgusted. This should never happen, we thought.
Here we were, at yet another industry event to discuss systemic barriers contributing to the construction trade’s shortage crisis. We know that shifting demographics will see almost 300,000 construction tradespeople retire over the immediate future. The industry needs to attract as many marginalized workers as possible—new Canadians, youth, Indigenous peoples, and women. Unfortunately, stories like the woman’s above often keep these much-needed workers away.
Here is my challenge to men in the construction industry: Do not tolerate the dragons among us. Predatory behaviour cannot be tolerated just because “he’s an otherwise great foreman” or “he’s one of my buddies.” Don’t turn your head when you see this behaviour happening. As one of my friends said, “Men who are abusive like this do more harm than good and have to go.” Another pointed out that this problem isn’t limited to construction as the #MeToo movement reminds us.
Standing up to dragons also goes for any type of injustice that may be experienced in the workforce. Safety of the whole person and his and her total health must be cared for.
Intolerable treatment is in dragon DNA. If dragons cannot change their scales even after facing the consequences of their actions, they must be removed from site.
There are dragons among us, but it is for the heroes and heroines of our day to see them slain.
Andrew Regnerus is CLAC Ontario’s construction co-ordinator