media

Unionizing Comics

I probably stopped reading comic books in the middle of my teens (although I love comic strips in newspapers), so my knowledge of the comics industry is pretty outdated. However, I’m always interested in unionizing campaigns for any type of worker, so I was intrigued when I came across the Twitter account Let’s Unionize Comics. Sasha Bassett runs that account; she is a Ph.D student at Portland State University and a self-declared “all-around pop culture junkie”. She has also conducted a survey of workers in the comics industry about their working conditions and their workplace concerns. Sasha graciously agreed to be interviewed via email about the comics industry and her vision of how it could become unionized.

Fiona: For readers who may not be familiar with how the comics industry works, can you describe its structure? For example, is it dominated by major companies, or is there a significant number of independent firms? Do comics artists work on their own and then try to sell their work, or are they usually commissioned to do specific projects?

Sasha: The structure of the comics industry is complex and fairly non-standardized. The market is absolutely dominated by (more…)

Al Snow’s “Self Help”

Professional wrestling is a fascinating industry. From my perspective as someone who does research on organizations, professional wrestling doesn’t work the way a successful industry is supposed to work, but it somehow manages to survive. There’s practices within the industry that are questionable – such as World Wrestling Entertainment’s classifying its “Superstars” as independent contractors rather than employees – and there’s things that happen in wrestling that shouldn’t happen in any kind of organization. And even though there’s a fair amount of regular turnover, as some wrestling companies close and others start up, and as wrestlers move from company to company, there always seems to be enough devoted fans for professional wrestling to keep on going.

As a kid, Al Snow was one of those devoted fans – and he went on to spend more than 35 years in the wrestling industry. I’m really happy that he’s written an autobiography, because I loved his work as a performer. However, Snow’s story is particularly intriguing, because (more…)

From Unexpected Places

Questlove’s book Creative Quest is a fascinating read. It’s a book about creativity, but it’s not a “successful creative person tells you how to be like him” type of book. It’s written in a very conversational style, almost like Questlove is talking through his creative process as a way of trying to understand it himself. And unlike a lot of books about being creative, Creative Quest is presented in plain black and white – no photos, no coloured fonts, no decorations, and, apart from one small box of text at the end of each chapter, no sidebars jammed full of handy tips and tricks. I really appreciated this approach because it didn’t pull your attention in ten different directions at once. It made you focus on what was being discussed.

I don’t know Questlove’s work all that well – I’ll explain how I came to the book in a minute – but I was impressed at his wide range of interests. That he’s into so many different things may not be a surprise to someone who follows his career more closely than I do, but he knows and values a lot of different kinds of artistry. One of the creative ideas that works for him and that he suggests in the book is to push your boundaries: to seek out work that you usually avoid. If you like punk music, go (more…)

‘Fed Up’ and Emotional Labour

The genesis of Gemma Hartley’s new book Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward was an essay she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar, titled “Women Aren’t Nags – We’re Just Fed Up”. The essay described her own experience of inequality in how she and her husband did, or didn’t do, housework – and the reaction to the essay showed that it wasn’t just her who was tired of doing everything. The essay went viral, and that led to the book.

Well, I’m fed up too, but not from doing emotional labour. I’m fed up with writers who grab a catchy-sounding term from social science research and misuse it for their own purposes. Hartley certainly isn’t the only author who’s done this, but what she calls “emotional labour” is clearly not what a substantial body of research says is “emotional labour”. That’s not only misleading to readers, but also insulting to the many researchers whose work has produced fascinating insights into this aspect of the workplace.

It’s telling that when Hartley mentions the first in-depth research investigation of emotional labour – Arlie Hochschild’s 1983 book The Managed Heart – she omits the book’s subtitle. The full title of the book is (more…)

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…)