labor unions

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…)

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…)

Why I support pretty much any strike by pretty much anyone, anywhere, about anything

In response to the one-day strike by Transport for London workers this week, Nathaniel Tapley provides this eloquent and passionate explanation of why it’s important for everyone to support workers on strike. “Every assault on pay, or conditions, for anyone in any industry narrows the options for us all. “

Nathaniel Tapley

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If you live in or around London, or work there, or know anyone who does, your social media will have been drenched in anger at the Tube strike this morning, along with the occasional voice popping up with: “I was saying Boo-urns.”

Anyway, many people’s first instinct is to blame the strikers (even if they couched in terms of support for nurses / teachers / anyone except tube drivers), so I thought I’d explain why mine isn’t.

To begin, I must declare an interest: I intend to use the Night Tube. I’d rather the person in control of the metal drunk-ferry burrowing its way through subterranean London at peak suicide time felt well-rested and recompensed and able to concentrate on getting me home without being dead.

They’re actually fighting for your pay and conditions

Wait, what? No they’re not? I don’t earn that much.

In a country where more…

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Bill C-377: A Sad Day for Democracy

Canada Day, July 1, is a day for Canadians to show their pride in their country. I love my country deeply. I am very grateful to have been born here, and I chose to live here. But this Canada Day is less than a joyous occasion for me – because on June 30, a law was enacted whose content and history is an embarrassment to democracy in this country.

I’ve written a couple of previous posts about Bill C-377, which started out as a private member’s bill in Canada’s House of Commons in late 2011. The bill amends Canada’s Income Tax Act to require “labour organizations” to submit statements to the Canada Revenue Agency showing the details of every financial transaction they make with a value over $5,000, along with details of any salaries over $100,000 annually that they pay. They are also required to submit a statement estimating the amount of time they spend on “political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labour relations activities”.

This information would be made publicly available on the Canada Revenue Agency website. It’s important to note that the details of financial transactions could include the amount of the transaction and the details involving the union, and the details of the other party or parties participating in the transaction.

There are many articles on the Internet describing the selective interpretations of Parliamentary procedure that were used to push this bill through Canada’s House of Commons and Senate. It says a lot about the poor quality of this bill that procedural manipulations were necessary for it to receive the approvals needed to become law. However, what I want to focus on in this bill’s enactment is the shameful disrespect for expert opinion and the apparent dominance of party loyalty over responsible decision-making. (more…)

Friday Follow-Ups

Updates on two posts from earlier this year:

  • And on a related note, two weeks earlier the CBC ombudsman issued a ruling that Lang violated the CBC’s conflict of interest policy, by not revealing personal connections to the Royal Bank of Canada before she interviewed the bank’s CEO. The text of that ruling is here.

My New Book

I’m very pleased to announce that the 4th edition of my textbook Industrial Relations in Canada, published by John Wiley and Sons Canada, is now (more…)

Amanda Lang, the CBC, and Journalistic Standards

Amanda Lang, CBC News’ “senior business correspondent” and the host of the CBC-TV show The Exchange with Amanda Lang, has recently been the subject of some controversy. In the last few weeks of 2014, it was alleged that she violated CBC’s conflict of interest policies by accepting paid speaking engagements from companies that she then “favourably” covered on her TV show. Then in early January it was alleged that she had lobbied within CBC News to downplay a story about the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) outsourcing jobs held by Canadian workers, when in the past she had given paid speeches at RBC-sponsored events. It also emerged that Lang was involved in a personal relationship with an RBC executive.

In a newspaper op-ed column, Lang denied the allegations of improper influence and defended her integrity – a response that was not well received. CBC subsequently banned its on-air staff from making paid appearances at non-CBC events, and, last week, announced that an “internal review” had found that Lang’s coverage did not violate CBC’s “journalistic standards”.

This series of events was deeply distressing to anyone who cares about the integrity of Canada’s publicly-funded national broadcaster – especially when the allegations involving Lang came directly after the allegations of workplace harassment by CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, followed by multiple criminal charges being laid against him. What was also distressing in Lang’s case was that both she and the CBC didn’t seem to understand that a perceived conflict of interest can be as damaging as an actual conflict of interest. Lang’s dismissing the allegations as “malevolent” and “utterly unwarranted” was ill-advised, and in my opinion only made the situation that much worse.

I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with much of Lang’s television work. But recently, while looking for something else entirely in the CBC’s online video archives, I came across a recent interview on her show that was so appalling (more…)

Human Resource Management and the CBC

One of the biggest stories in work & organizations in Canada right now is the ongoing workplace scandals at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At first, attention was focused on the firing of former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.  In the first week of 2015, Ghomeshi was charged with three more counts of assault, and  two CBC executives were placed on indefinite “leaves of absence”. But now another controversy has arisen that involves a different CBC employee – senior business correspondent Amanda Lang. According to a report quoting another CBC reporter, Lang intervened in the CBC’s coverage of a news story involving a company that Lang was paid to give speeches to; she also had a personal relationship with an executive at that company.

Before last week, it might have been possible to attribute CBC management’s ineffective strategy of dealing with Ghomeshi – which seemed to be to ignore or downplay signs of trouble for as long as possible – to the challenges of an exceptional situation that even the most experienced executive would have trouble handling. But the news about Lang’s alleged behaviour – which the CBC again seemed to manage by denial and by downplaying dissent – raises the very serious possibility that CBC has a systemic and widespread problem with its workplace culture and its human resource management practices.

A reader of this blog contacted me to point out one part of the CBC story that has largely gone unnoticed. This part involves Todd Spencer, who is CBC’s “executive director, people and culture” and is one of the two executives currently on leave. (more…)

Union Grievance Procedures and the Jian Ghomeshi Story

Just over three weeks ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) fired Jian Ghomeshi, the host of its radio show Q. The CBC stated that the reason for the firing was “information” that “preclud[ed]” it from continuing to employ him. Since then, a number of women have come forward with allegation that Ghomeshi physically attacked them while they were dating him. Three of these allegations are being investigated by the Toronto police. Ghomeshi is suing the CBC for $55 million for allegedly dismissing him on the basis of a “moral judgement” about his sex life. He also announced on Facebook that he would also be filing a grievance for reinstatement.

A big part of the discussion of this story is about Ghomeshi’s workplace behaviour – since one of the first allegations of abusive behaviour was from another CBC employee – and whether the CBC adequately fulfilled its responsibility as an employer to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment. However, there is a major difference between Ghomeshi’s employment situation and the employment situations of many other high-profile media personalities in Canada and elsewhere. Ghomeshi is a union member – and that means that his situation will likely be managed differently than if he wasn’t part of a union.

Some commentators on the Ghomeshi story – particularly those from outside Canada – apparently don’t understand how grievances work in unionized workplaces in Canada, how a grievance might relate to Ghomeshi’s lawsuit, or the responsibility of his union in representing him. I think it’s important to be clear on those issues, (more…)