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A long-time street sweeper with the City of Charlottetown says mental health issues are making it hard for him to do his job.
Barry Johnston, who has been working with the city for the past 33 years, says he suffers from severe social anxiety and recently ran into problems when he was tasked with working downtown.
Johnston said he feels very uncomfortable working downtown and wants to be moved to the Sherwood-Parkdale area.
“I haven’t worked for five or six weeks because they won’t let me,’’ Johnston said in an interview on Monday, explaining that his bosses won’t move him as per his request. “They won’t give me anywhere to go and work that I find acceptable.
“I walked away and they walked away. I haven’t been fired. I wasn’t laid off. I didn’t quit. I didn’t resign. I don’t have a clue what my status is.’’
He added that he hasn’t had any income since July 1.
Johnston said he isn’t speaking out to bad-mouth the city. He said it’s more out of frustration that people with mental health issues are sometimes overlooked.
Johnston said he was diagnosed years ago by a mental health therapist and, for the past 10 years, the city has been very accommodating in relation to his illness. Then, suddenly something changed this year.
Johnston supplied his supervisors with two notes from his doctor explaining his anxiety disorder, but they were just ignored.
He noted that he is speaking out against his family’s wishes but said it was time to speak up, especially for others who suffer from a mental health disorder who may be facing the same pressures in the workplace. Johnston noted that mental health issues run in his family.
“I’m just not comfortable around people, never have been. I want to be in a secluded area. The traffic I don’t mind so much, it’s just the people.’’
The Guardian reached out to Johnston’s union, CUPE 501, but there was no response back. Typically, however, the union doesn’t tend to comment publicly about a person’s medical situation.
However, Johnston called The Guardian on Tuesday to say that the calls The Guardian made on his behalf seem to have had an impact. He is scheduled to meet with the head of his union this morning.
Johnston said the union isn't happy he went to the media with his concerns. But Johnston said enough was enough.
Coun. Julie McCabe, chairwoman of the human resources committee with the city, said as is the case with all human resources and personnel matters, the city does not comment on specific employees.
“The city encourages all employees to work through our human resources department and their union if they have any concerns about their employment,’’ said McCabe, who also noted the city has an employee assistance program that is available to all employees.
“We also strive to provide accommodations for any of our employees with specific needs, wherever possible.’’
Johnston hopes to get things resolved with the city, but he understands the risk in speaking out. He noted one of his fears of speaking out is people, especially his co-workers, will make fun of him now.
“I just want what I feel I’m entitled to.’’
Johnston is getting his resume ready just in case things don’t work out and he has to go looking for work elsewhere.