organizations

Unionizing Starbucks

Just a few years ago, if someone had said that more than 200 Starbucks outlets in North America would be unionized, the response would have been something like this.  Yet here we are, just after Labour Day, and….more than 200 Starbucks outlets are unionized, including several in Canada. These unionizations are remarkable not just because they’re happening, but also because the successful unionization campaigns look nothing like what unionizing efforts are supposed to look like.

Starbucks is a huge and very wealthy international corporation, so it has lots of resources to oppose unionization in its “stores”. With many of its locations in the US, it benefits from US labour laws that are generally less union-friendly than in Canada – for example, captive audience meetings are banned in Canada but permitted in the US – so US employers tend to be more successful at resisting unionization. And because of how Canadian and US labour laws are structured, unionizing a company like Starbucks, with multiple locations, generally means the union has to run an organizing campaign at each individual location, rather than being able to unionize all of them at once. (In 2021 Starbucks had over 1300 locations in Canada and nearly 9000 locations in the US, in addition to licensed outlets operated in partnership with other retailers.)

Most traditional union organizers would look at this situation and say that it would be just too difficult and too expensive to organize unions at Starbucks, and that any attempt to do so would probably fail. To have any chance at success, a union would have to be very experienced, and have skilled organizers and major resources, to combat the extensive anti-unionization campaign and anti-union tactics that Starbucks would undoubtedly roll out. Also, because the food service sector tends to have high rates of employee turnover, most large unions have avoided organizing workplaces in that sector, because of the very real possibility that workers supporting the union might leave or be fired before the union is formally recognized.

So it’s incredible not only that there are now so many unionized Starbucks locations, but that (more…)

Just Say No

In every workplace there are tasks that aren’t enjoyable to do, or that aren’t part of formal job descriptions but are important for building positive relationships and community. However, research has shown that these kinds of tasks – which some researchers have labeled “office housework” –  tend to be done more often by women and by members of demographic minorities. It’s also been suggested that doing these tasks can have a negative impact on the careers of those who regularly take them on.

The new book The No Club: Putting A Stop To Women’s Dead-End Work, by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart,  is a very thoughtful analysis of this phenomenon. Coincidentally, I came across the book when I was thinking about how “office housework” functions in academic workplaces. I recently left an academic job, but I still regularly get requests to (more…)

The Weight of a Name

When an organization is hiring someone to fill a job, it’s very difficult to avoid bias in the hiring process – because, at some point, the hiring decision is subjective. The applicants for the job may have very similar qualifications and experience, which then usually leads to assessments such as how well each applicant would “fit” within the organization. “Fit” is a subjective assessment, and when subjective assessments become an exercise in “how much is this person like the people that are already here”, that’s when unintended or explicit bias can affect the hiring decision.

Numerous studies have shown that hiring decisions can be biased by factors like the ethnicity of the applicant’s name, their appearance, and their social class. Now, two economists, Qi Ge and Stephen Wu, have published a very interesting research study of another possible source of bias in hiring: how difficult it is to pronounce the applicant’s name.

The data that these researchers used for their study was taken from (more…)

Fact-Checking Card-Checking in British Columbia

In April, the British Columbia government introduced legislation that would change the Labour Relations Code and allow automatic certification in union organizing campaigns. This change would make it much easier for unions to become the legal workplace representative for employees. The usual pro-business pro-management organizations – Chambers of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of BC – are complaining that this change would “weaken the democratic right for workers to exercise choice through a secret ballot”.  The Business Council has also sent a letter to BC Premier John Horgan with a lengthy list of complaints about the legislation’s potential impacts.  And the “non-partisan” Fraser Institute has called the proposed legislation “unfair to workers”.

At best, these statements are misleading. At worse, they reflect an implicit belief that unions can only hurt businesses’ operations and profitability – a belief which is also highly inaccurate.

To understand why these statements are so troubling, it’s useful to know what automatic certification is. When a union (more…)

“It’s Beyond Frustrating”: Why Athletes are Still Being Abused

The Olympics are supposed to be an exciting and enjoyable experience, for athletes and for spectators. But for figure skating fans, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing could best be characterized as stressful and depressing.

After the team event – the first skating event on the schedule – it was revealed that 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, the favourite to win the women’s event, had previously tested positive for a banned drug intended to treat chest pain. After an emergency hearing by the Court for Arbitration in Sport, Valieva was allowed to continue competing, but the medals in the team event were not awarded. Valieva ended up placing fourth in the women’s event, and her teammate Alexandra Trusova, who came second, had an emotional meltdown at rinkside, shouting that she hated skating and would never go on the ice again.

While watching all of this drama and turmoil unfold, I couldn’t help but think that for almost 30 years we’ve known there were problems in the sport of skating. In 1995, sportswriter Joan Ryan’s book Little Girls In Pretty Boxes painted a terrible picture of abusive coaching, unhealthy training practices, and incredible stress placed on young figure skaters and gymnasts. Thankfully, as an adult skater, I got into the sport when I was old enough to be in control of what I did. But it’s no secret to anyone who follows skating that, even after well-documented investigations like those in Ryan’s book, there are still very significant problems within the sport.

So I decided to get in touch with Ryan and see if she would be willing to be interviewed about whether anything has changed, 30 years after her whistleblowing. She kindly agreed, and we talked this week. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

 

Fiona McQuarrie [FM]: What’s your take on the doping scandal at the Olympics?

Joan Ryan [JR]: The Washington Post asked me to write an op-ed on that a couple of weeks ago, and, you know, I wrote this book 27 years ago now. There has been change on the gymnastics side, unfortunately because of Larry Nassar, and because of the gymnasts themselves. They have risen up like an army, and they are the ones that are going to make sure it finally changes. That’s the only reason I have any hope that it’s going to change now after all these years.

I haven’t followed figure skating as closely over those 27 years, but the US skaters certainly seem healthier to me. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but clearly the total destruction of two of the three Russian figure skaters is a clear sign that it’s dysfunctional. There’s clearly (more…)

I See You: The Effects of Representation

Many organizations think that being inclusive is simply an issue of hiring members of underrepresented groups. But people hired on that basis are not going to stick around if they feel isolated or that they stand out, or that they’ve been hired just because they’re “diverse”. One very important element in inclusivity is representation; people want to see others like them, and also want to see those other people being respected and valued.

Part of a new study by a group of US researchers looks at the effects of representation in a place that isn’t often examined: the readings that students are assigned in university courses. There has been plenty of discussion over the past few decades about “the canon” in various academic fields and what determines whether a work is a “classic”  that all students should be familiar with. The researchers investigated whether the gender balance of assigned readings in a political-science course – the number of readings written by men and the number of readings written by women – affected female and male students’ self-efficacy: their confidence in their own ability to succeed. The study looked at (more…)

The Right to Disconnect

The boundaries between home and work became blurred when the COVID-19 pandemic caused many jobs to be shifted online. Workers who were not permitted to come into their workplaces were working on computers in their living rooms, dining areas, spare rooms (if they had one), and even closets and bedroom. But even before that, boundaries were already being blurred by communications technology such as cellphones, text messaging, and email, allowing employers to contact employees at any hour of the day or night – which for many workers made them feel as if they are never really off work.

Ontario’s labour minister has proposed a legal “right to disconnect” is a step toward solving the problem of employers expecting workers to always be “on”. This is an important initiative, and the problem needs to be addressed. But this on its own is not going to fix the more fundamental and widespread workplace issues that the pandemic has highlighted, and which should be more of a priority.

The legal “right to disconnect” was first implemented in France in 2017, allowing employees to not answer work-related emails or calls during their time off. Canada’s federal government struck a task force in 2020 to explore the possibility of similar legislation for federally regulated occupations.  Ontario’s proposed legislation would require organizations with 25 or more employees to develop policies around work-related communications, such as establishing expectations for response times to emails.

It might seem that policies like this could cause even more stress for workers and employers, by compressing working time while maintaining expectations of continued productivity. However, (more…)

“The Power of a Collective”: The Experience of Unionizing at a Chapters/Indigo Store

As an author and as a reader, I love bookstores. I want to support bookstores that treat their employees fairly and respectfully, because knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff are the difference between a good bookstore and a great bookstore. So I was delighted when the staff at my local Chapters/Indigo store became members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and recently reached their first collective agreement.

Traditionally, retail outlets staffed by younger or part-time workers have been perceived as challenging to unionize. I was curious about the process that led to the formation of the Indigo 771 union, so I got in touch with Ariel Popil and Alex Johnson, the two union stewards at the store. They graciously agreed to be interviewed via email about the experience of organizing the union.

[Note: since this discussion took place, workers at another Chapters/Indigo location, at Kennedy Commons in Scarborough, Ontario, have started a certification campaign.]

How many full-time and part-time staff work at Indigo/Chapters Pinetree? How many of those staff are in the union?

There are about 30 part-time staff members at any given time, and we have one full-time staff member. All part-time and full-time staff are part of the union.

When did the organizing campaign start, and why did it start? What was happening at the store that made the workers want to be represented by a union? (more…)

Blowing the Whistle on the CBC

One of the principles that managers are taught is the importance of listening to employees. Listening to employees makes them feel valued and included. But the other side of that principle, which regularly gets overlooked, is that the listening should result in action. If employees express concerns about the organization to managers, and nothing happens, that can lead to a distrust that potentially undermines the employee-manager relationship in the long run.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada’s publicly funded national English-language broadcaster; its French-language counterpart is Radio-Canada. In the last couple of years, CBC has had several internal management-employee disputes that have spilled into public view. After radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired in 2014, it emerged that several employees had filed formal and informal complaints with CBC management about his harassment and abuse, but no meaningful action was ever taken. Last year, there was criticism of the CBC’s coverage of anti-racism protests in the US, reports that journalist/host Wendy Mesley had twice used the N-word in workplace meetings, and an arbitration decision that found CBC had wrongly dismissed a reporter who criticized comments by (former) hockey commentator Don Cherry. Not surprisingly, CBC employees then publicly expressed concerns about the lack of diversity within CBC’s own workforce, as well as bias in the choices of what was considered “news” and how some issues were presented.

In response to those complaints, CBC editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon publicly committed to a number of workplace initiatives, including (more…)

Change

As of May 31, I’ll be retiring from my position as Professor in the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley. I’m moving to a part-time position at the BC Council on Admissions & Transfer, which administers BC’s post-secondary transfer system.

But this blog will continue. This is a very interesting time for work and for organizations, with the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about. A lot of fundamental assumptions about how and why we work are being questioned, and there is lots to think and write about.

I’ve been posting irregularly of late, but I hope to post more regularly once things have settled down. Thanks to All About Work‘s readers, followers, and commenters for your continued support.

Cleaning out my office (credit: own photo)