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Public Education and the British Columbia Provincial Election

Some of this blog’s readers are likely already aware that the Canadian province of British Columbia (where I live) is going to have a provincial general election on May 9.  Lots of issues are being raised in the election campaign: jobs, the cost of housing, natural resources, regional inequities, and campaign financing.

As in any election, education is also an important issue. The platforms of BC’s three major political parties – the Liberals (who, as the party with the most elected representatives in BC’s Legislature, are the current governing party), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party – all have promises related to elementary and secondary (K-12) education. That’s heartening to see, because publicly-funded education is an essential part of a democratic, equal-opportunity society. However, the election discussions around BC’s K-12 public education system have not paid much attention to the significant events around that system in the last few years. I think these events should have a higher profile during this election – not just because (more…)

Paris’ street-sweeping heroes

“A seemingly humble job often belies the richness of a man’s life.” Words and photos to remind us of the importance of work that is often undervalued or unnoticed, and the workers who take pride in doing that work.

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Photography often makes me adopt some strange positions. Such was the case when I slithered on my belly along Paris’ Seine river to frame this shot.

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So engrossed was I in my task that I barely registered the sound of the street-sweeping vehicle approaching from behind, nor did I notice it stopping.

“Is everything alright, madame?” I saw the man’s boots first, then his uniform, and finally his masked faced. I felt a bit stupid as I stood up and explained that I was suffering for my art taking a photo.

He sometimes took photos too, he said, pulling out his phone. He flipped through shots he had taken while running an 850-kilometer (528-mile) race last year to raise funds for displaced children. “I came in third in my age group,” he beamed. “Wait. Let me show you …” There he was, standing on the winners’ podium. “And this is…

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Being Innovative About Innovation

Canada’s federal government released its 2017 budget last week – and the word of the day was “innovation”. By one estimate, “innovation” is mentioned more than 200 times in the 278-page budget document. And there’s lots of money available for innovation too: more than $8.2 billion directed toward various programs around skill and product development.

But despite the numerous mentions of “innovation” in the budget document, it’s difficult to find a clear explanation of how the federal government defines that term.  The government is right that workplaces are changing, and that workers and employers need to adapt to changes that affect their industries. But from looking at what the government is actually funding, it appears that the government is defining “innovation” mostly in relation to developing new technology, particularly around inventions that can be patented or commercialized. And much of the funding around “innovation” is devoted to creating conditions in which technology-based development can happen: for example, supporting “superclusters” of researchers and entrepreneurs to encourage business development in technology-related industries, or funding programs that teach kids how to code.

But let’s step back and look at this for a minute. (more…)

Misfits in the Workplace

If you are involved in hiring, or if you do research about hiring, one of the terms that you consistently encounter is “person-organization fit”. That term describes the idea that in a successful hiring, the values of the employee match the values of the organization. However, in turbulent labour markets, job seekers may be less concerned with finding a “fit” and more concerned with just finding a job. On the other side of the equation, employers may be less worried about “fit” and more worried about finding someone who’s capable of adequately performing the job. Those priorities can result in more and more workplace  “misfits”  – employees who don’t feel like they belong in the organization, or who don’t want to be there, but who don’t feel they have the option to leave.

A research article published late last year takes a very interesting perspective on the “misfit” experience.  It seems reasonable to assume that because misfits are unhappy at work, their job performance would be poor, and they would tend to be disengaged from the organization. However, this study proposes that, (more…)

Bob White and “Final Offer”

This morning brought the sad news that Bob White had passed away.  He was the founding president of the Canadian Auto Workers union – now known as Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada  – and a former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the national federation of Canadian unions.

White accomplished some incredible things in his long and productive life, but one of his activities is particularly meaningful to me. This is the documentary film Final Offer, made in 1984 by director Sturla Gunnarsson for the National Film Board of Canada. Final Offer chronicles (more…)

Mary Tyler Moore and Workplace Equality

When Mary Tyler Moore passed away this week at the age of 80, the world lost a very talented performer. But the world also lost a woman that made a difference for other women. In the 1970s, through her TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she co-created and co-produced, as well as starred in –  Moore helped to change attitudes about workplace equality.

Dan McGarry, who teaches human resource management at Seneca College in Ontario, sent me this post, which he also put on his course website. He wanted to tell his students how important Moore’s television show was in depicting the barriers that women faced at work.

Mary Tyler Moore’s name may mean very little or nothing to most of you, except that you heard that she passed away yesterday. However her television show, which used just her name, was a groundbreaker when it was first aired starting in 1970. Her character of Mary Richards was the first ‘career woman’ portrayed as the primary character in a TV show. 30-something, unmarried and unattached, she demonstrated something new in the mass media: a woman who could ‘make it on her own’. (more…)

Race, Class, and Bias in Hiring

At the start of a new year, a lot of people make resolutions for what they want to achieve in the next twelve months – and often those resolutions have something to do with work. The resolution could be to choose a new career, to get more education, or to look for a new job. So now is a particularly appropriate time to look at two recent studies about bias in employers’ hiring processes. The results of these studies demonstrate that job applicants can often be rejected for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do the job. And the studies also suggest that biased hiring has effects that go way beyond individual careers or workplaces.

These two studies used essentially the same methodology, which is (more…)

Shadow Work and Customer Service

In any organization, there are tasks that have to be done if anything is going to be accomplished or produced. So the organization has to decide which jobs in the organization are responsible for completing those tasks. In workplaces, this decision process is referred to as “job design” – putting different tasks together to create jobs.

Ideally, according to job characteristics theory, a job has skill variety, task significance (feeling like the task contributes something meaningful), autonomy, and the opportunity to get performance feedback. All of these make the job enjoyable for the worker who has that job. The organization also has to ensure that the tasks in one job don’t overlap with or duplicate tasks in other jobs, and that all the tasks in the organization are assigned to a job.

However, tasks in a workplace are not always easy to fully define, or to fit inside clear boundaries. Think of something like (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in the BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part II)

On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered an oral decision in the legal dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) – the union representing teachers in BC’s public school system – and the British Columbia provincial government.

That decision ended a 14-year legal battle between the two parties over the BC government’s decision to pass legislation that removed the language around class size and composition from its collective agreement with the BCTF, and that also excluded those issues from collective bargaining. The BCTF claimed that the government’s actions violated Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association. Two previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions – in the Fraser case and the Health Services case – have established that in the context of labour relations, “freedom of association” includes workers’ rights to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court decision on November 10 was remarkable because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)