media

Scabby the Rat: Good Times, Bad Times

Several years ago, I wrote about Scabby the Rat, the giant inflatable rat that is regularly used at union rallies and picket lines to draw attention to greedy employer behaviour. Recently, Scabby has popped up (ha-ha) in the news, in a good way and in a bad way.

At the time of my previous post, Scabby had mostly made appearances in the US. But  this past summer Scabby showed up in my own country, rising above the fence at Ontario Place in Toronto during a lockout of stagehands at the Canadian National Exhibition. And now it seems that Scabby has gone international, as he was part of a recent case in New Zealand involving alleged defamation during contract negotiations.

In 2016, members of First Union were negotiating a collective agreement with the owner of a Pak’n Save supermarket. When negotiations stalled, the union members held a protest outside the supermarket, with Scabby and signs reading “Pak’n Slave”. The employer took the union to New Zealand’s employment court (similar to the provincial and federal Labour Relations Boards in Canada), claiming that Scabby and the signs were defamatory and that they breached the legal requirement to bargain in good faith.

In December 2018, an employment court judge ruled that the duty of good faith “does not require bargaining to be undertaken in a courteous way” and dismissed the employer’s complaints. Scabby’s presence at the protest was deemed (more…)

The “Skills Gap”

A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.

The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Thanks to my local public library, I recently had the opportunity to read Morra Aarons-Mele’s new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). As I’ve discussed on this blog previously, I’m not a fan of most popular-press career and business books, but the title of this one drew me in. It suggested vulnerability and something less than overwhelming self-confidence, and that’s far more representative of many people’s workplace reality than (more…)

Harry Leslie Smith’s ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

Harry Leslie Smith is just about to turn 95, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.  But he has also given a tremendous gift to the world: his new book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.

His publishers were kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book. Ironically, the print copy they sent by post appears to have been lost by the Royal Mail – a organization  that was publicly owned for almost 500 years before it was privatized, in the belief that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector. That’s exactly the kind of flawed economic reasoning that Smith condemns – the “free market” logic that says competitive markets will result in superior products and services, and that says better government is less government.

The spread of that ideology has led to decreases in the amount and availability of state-supported services, such as publicly-funded health care and social assistance. By recounting his own history, Smith shows the very real improvements that those services can bring to individual lives and to the overall well-being of society. He also strongly makes the point that governments should work for the betterment of all, not just to help the rich become richer.

Smith grew up in (more…)

Same Question, Different Answers: How It Happens

How can two studies researching the same question come up with two different answers? That was the dilemma that several media outlets recently had to confront, with the release of the results of two studies looking at the impact of the city of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage rate for workers in that city. Even though the studies were looking at the same issue, they came up with results that contradicted each other.

The results of the first study indicated that the wage increase didn’t reduce overall job numbers or hours of work. Media: “Yay! Minimum wage increases are a good thing.” But then the results of the second study indicated that the wage increase caused declines in both numbers of jobs and amounts of work. Media: “Um…okay, maybe minimum wage increases aren’t that great.”

The fact that these studies had different results doesn’t mean that one study is right and the other is wrong, or that both studies are wrong and nobody really knows what happened. The studies are admittedly not easy reading – both use complex forms of economic analysis that, frankly, I wouldn’t try to explain because I would probably get them wrong. But we can still look at how the studies were designed and carried out to see if there are reasons why their results might differ.

Here’s a table that (more…)

It’s Everywhere

Autobiographies by professional wrestlers tend to be read mostly by wrestling fans. As a wrestling fan, I get that people who aren’t interested in wrestling probably aren’t particularly interested in reading about it either. But a recent book by a former professional wrestler has a lot of profound insights that I was reminded of when the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted. In his role as a producer and studio head, Weinstein allegedly assaulted or harassed numerous women – but there are other, more insidious ways that the entertainment industry demeans women, both as participants and as consumers. AJ Mendez Brooks, who wrestled as AJ Lee in WWE, brings some of those anti-women forces into the light in describing her own experiences in the wrestling industry.

Far too many female wrestlers are hired because (more…)

Not Normal

The Emmy Awards ceremony is usually an evening of fun and frocks, during which some awards are also handed out. But this year’s ceremony in mid-September came under fire for starting things off with a comedy skit featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Some commentators argued that, in his former job, Spicer regularly defended his boss’ racist and xenophobic decisions, so they wanted to hear him apologize before they were willing to listen to him tell jokes. Others argued that it was just a comedy skit, and Spicer deserved a second chance – particularly since he was fired from the White House, rather than quitting – and that like any other disgraced public figure he should have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

My feelings lie toward more toward the “not ready for jokes yet” perspective. I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert – and his principled and honest attitude toward his work – and I’m also a viewer of his show who really appreciates him calling out the ridiculousness of the actions of the Trump administration. So I was quite disappointed to learn that Colbert was apparently responsible for arranging Spicer’s Emmy appearance. There are likely larger issues of forgiveness and redemption going on in this situation that would take a very long time to pick apart here. But I’ll just say that, given Colbert’s insightful commentaries on the serious implications of Trump’s conduct, I would have thought that Colbert would have anticipated the potential for negative blowback from Spicer’s participation in the show.

What particularly troubles me about the decision to feature Spicer on the Emmys is how it demonstrates “normalization”. This is the phenomenon in which (more…)

The Decline (?) of Racism

Sigh. It’s time for another “Margaret Wente gets it wrong” blog post.

This past weekend, the Globe and Mail plagiarist columnist proclaimed that racism isn’t really as prevalent as “the progressive left” would have you believe. In support of this position, she cited (more…)

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

A Strike That’s Gone On Too Long

Last week there was a significant event in Nova Scotia that went largely unnoticed in the rest of Canada. Unfortunately it’s not a positive event, and it deserves more attention.

Over 50 unionized newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax have now been on strike for more than 500 days. Yes, almost a year and a half. (The length of the average work stoppage in Canada is six days.) The strike started on January 23, 2016, after (more…)