Canadian Hearing Society ramps up pay for top executives as strike continues

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Canadian Hearing Society workers ratify new agreement, end 2 month-long strike

A taxpayer-funded charity that provides services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community across Ontario has ramped up its pay for top executives while cutting front-line staff, research by CBC News reveals. 

The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) receives more than $20 million annually from the provincial government for such services as sign-language interpretation in hospitals, counselling and audiology. The agency's unionized workers, many of whom are themselves deaf, are on picket lines across the province in a strike that began in early March. 

The salary of the agency's president and CEO shot up 75 per cent in just three years, according to data from Ontario's Sunshine List. 

The salary of its vice president of finance and corporate services appeared on previous versions of the Sunshine List but was not disclosed for 2016. That's because he switched to billing the agency as a consultant for his work. CBC News has learned that his consulting rate amounts to a 26 per cent pay hike from three years earlier.

Meanwhile, unionized staff at the Canadian Hearing Society haven't had a pay increase since their contract expired four years ago. The agency has cut its total number of full-time staff by 28 per cent in three years, according to information filed with the federal charities directorate.

"The sharp increase in top executive salaries is a slap in the face to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community," said George Postlethwait Jr., president of the Ontario Association of the Deaf, an advocacy group whose members rely on the services provided by the charity.

"How can that be justified, those increases to those salaries? It just doesn't make sense," said Stacey Connor, president of CUPE Local 2073, which represents the striking workers.   

"This is a non-profit organization," Connor said Tuesday in an interview conducted with a sign language interpreter. "And we're being told over and over again, 'There's no money, there's no money.'" 

Documents filed with the provincial government show that Canadian Hearing Society president and CEO Julia Dumanian was paid $268,749 in 2016, an increase of more than $115,000 over what her predecessor in the position earned in 2013.  

Dumanian was appointed CEO on July 6, 2015. The 2015 Sunshine List shows she was paid $122,275 for her six months on the job that year.

"The CHS board of directors determines the rate, and that is based on experience, education and looking at other agencies in the sector," said Gary Malkowski, the charity's vice-president of stakeholder and employee relations, in an interview conducted with a sign-language interpreter.

"They were looking for a qualified president and CEO who could come in and really do the transformation that was required."   

Sunshine List data shows Stephanus Greeff was paid $115,185 as vice-president of finance and chief financial officer in 2013. His salary jumped to $188,739 in 2015, when he added responsibilities as acting CEO to his job for six months. 

Greeff does not appear on the Sunshine List for 2016. A spokesperson for the Canadian Hearing Society said Greef resigned as VP finance and CFO on May 1, 2016 and the agency contracted his services for the rest of the year. He is now listed on the agency's website as vice president, finance and corporate services. 

A copy of an invoice obtained by CBC News shows Greeff billed the agency $12,100 for a month of consulting services in August 2016, a rate of $145,200 per year. The charity refused to confirm his fee, saying they are not allowed to disclose the terms of any professional service contracts.

All not-for-profit organizations receiving more than $1 million in annual funding from the provincial government are required by law to report the salaries of all employees who earned more than $100,000. Consulting fees are exempt from the disclosure rules.

In 2016, CHS received $9.9 million from the provincial Health Ministry, $8.6 million from Community and Social Services and $2.2 million from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. The province is continuing to transfer its full amount of funding to CHS during the strike.

Malkowski said Greeff switched from employee to consultant as part of the charity's management restructuring.

"We did reduce the number of management positions within the organization," he said. "We value his expertise, his experience and his consultation."

- How strike at Canadian Hearing Society is affecting Ontario's deaf community 

Since Dumanian was hired as CEO, the Ontario Association of the Deaf "has received numerous complaints, concerns, and testimonials regarding CHS management culture, style, and direction," said Postlethwait in an emailed response to questions from CBC News. 

Dumanian was previously CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital and was fired in 2009. The province appointed a supervisor to run the hospital over what then-minister of health David Caplan called "outstanding and ongoing governance and management matters."  

CBC News requested an interview with Dumanian but was told that Malkowski would speak for the agency.