Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Tunes: EMS Anthem

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is "EMS Anthem" by Farooq Muhammad. I’ve been seeing to a fair bit of trash-tweeting about unionized public-sector workers in the wake of the New Democrat election win. Some of its suggests that the NDs will roll over in contract negotiations with public-sector unions (ha!) and the rest is just ideological distain for the public sector.

The idea that private-sector jobs (e.g., convenience store clerk) are always “better” than public sector jobs (e.g., teacher) is incorrect right-wing dogma. EMS Anthem offers an interesting antidote to this belief, by examining the life of New York paramedic.

In the song Muhammad talks about the value of his job (“Savin' lives/Is what we do every day/Hopin' for you/Just to see the next day”) and the personal cost of doing it (“and damn you better believe /I cryin my eyes out any time I see /a poor baby that got murdered in his sleep”). 

While it is often easy to see the value of certain public-sector jobs like first responders nurses and teachers, there are few public sector jobs without value. Whether it is protecting the watershed or ensuring public institutions are clean and that public records are correct and accessible, these jobs have high social value. 

Perhaps more workers should start rapping—I know faculty council would be a lot more interesting with a hip-hop vibe. ("I'm wearin' the robe/Got the mortar board/I second the motion/Pedants galore")

Here we go again
Now I'm back in the saddle
Hotter than cayenne
With my EMS friends

Workin' in the ambulance
Waitin' for the next one
Dispatch droppin' jobs
Non stop, all ya' got

6-3, en route
Headed to the call
Pedal to the floor
Diesel fumes from exhaust

Streets criss-cross
till you know I'm 84
Got the gear, I'm walkin'
To the front door

Hopin' for
Not another corpse
Or a life lost
already seen enough of those

entrance to the residence
An old man hangin' on
For dear life with his medicine
High con oxygen

Start CPR
Gonna keep him goin'
But you know it's up to God

Ready for war
Fightin' death nail to the wall
Pumpin' harder than an engine
But we never stall

Never give up hope
You know you're gonna make it
We're here servin' you
Don't ever mistake it

Savin' lives
Is what we do every day
Hopin' for you
Just to see the next day

When death starts knockin'
Gettin' near
We'll be there
Don't ever fear

I am EMS
And I swear by my anthem
And I pray to God
To guide all of my actions

now please be singer
not voice not melodic
listen up partner
i'm a certified medic

workin' these streets of NYC
and if it wasnt for the bills
man i'd do it for free

ya'll stop the bleed
apply the lead
help those in need
and damn you better believe
i cryin my eyes out any time i see
a poor baby that got murdered in his sleep

lord have mercy for the evil that i've seen
pd on the scene for another body bloody shoutin 85 forthwith emts
expeditiously with expertise
we're the ones u need and if it wasn’t for us
there'd be a lot more people lay bitin the dust
spillin blood from their guts
supreme treatment from a team u can trust
doing it steady trained and ready

Never give up hope
You know you're gonna make it
We're here servin' you
Don't ever mistake it
save a life what we do everyday
hoping for you just see the next day
when death starts knocking gettin near

we'll be there never fear
I'm EMS and i swear by my anthem
and i pray to God to guide all of my actions

never do we hesitate going to calls we get sent
barricades near deaths even bomb threats hence
we just keep it movin at the speed of light
now we clickin the lights and we're hittin the strobe
for another man shot in the occipital lobe
we just go never stop stayin on it siren blasting drivin faster 
the golden hour dodgin traffic when it gets tragic hustlin' every time

doing what we gotta do no need for a thank you
were doin' it for passion
showin' you compassion not for fashion
or cashin any check just here to save ur neck
never once do we fret drippin sweat yea you guessed
we're the best ems never rest to the test
we posses what we need for success
ideal it doesnt get more real FDNY EMS

never give up hope you know ur gonna make it
we're here servin u dont ever mistake it
save a life what we do everyday hoping for you just see the next day
when death starts knocking gettin near
we'll be there never fear 
I'm EMS and i swear by my anthem

and i pray to God to guide all of my actions x2

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Will education reduce workplace bullying?

I had an interesting conversation recently about the value of education in the workplace. The gist was that educating employers about the costs associated with workplace bully would result in less bullying at work (I’m paraphrasing a bit). The underlying logic is that bullying is costly and that profit-maximizing employers, once aware of the costs, will act to avoid them.

I’m generally skeptical about this line of argument. The evidence I was pointed to about cost is from the Workplace Bullying Institute (under the Impact tab). This organization approaches bullying from a psychological perspective and focuses their impact studies on the personal impact of bullying.

This is a very valid perspective and yields useful insights into why and how bullying occurs and how it affects the target. That said, the psychological perspective ignores that bullying occurs in a political and economic context. Specifically, workplace bullying occurs within a capitalist economy, wherein employer behaviour is shaped by the profit imperative.

One of the more interesting articles written about bullying in employment is “Workplace bullying and the employment relationship”. Based on British data, this article suggests that employers may economically benefit from bullying. Specifically, bullying by supervisors (the most common bullies) may be an efficient way to increase productivity. In this way, bullying may be an endemic feature of capitalist employment relationships.

The idea that employer condone bullying is an uncomfortable one. Yet it certainly explains why profit maximizers (like employers) would put up with this bullying: it is in their economic interest.

This line of analysis is also a good tonic for advocates of workplace education, who often assume that deviant behaviour is the product of ignorance, rather than the interaction of systemic pressures and self-interest.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Tunes: Precarious Work

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is Precarious Work by Mohammad Ali. This song stems from the Toronto rapper’s experience of trying to find a good job after graduating from Humber College and being confronted with various low-wage, part-time options.

I couldn’t find any lyrics online and damned if I was going to try and work them out myself so I guess you’ll just have to listen to this song. While the rapper is (I think) very measured and articulate in his criticism, the larger issue (from a political economy perspective) is what happens when a large segment of the population essentially loses hope in ever achieving a stable life?

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Can ordinary people govern themselves?

Part of a university education is developing the ability to assess whether commonly held views are valid. The election of an NDP government in Alberta has triggered much hand-wringing about whether these inexperienced soon-to-be Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) can successfully govern the province.

Generally, I’m skeptical of this thinking. My experience is that many factors influence the performance of cabinet ministers and very experienced ministers can make a real hash of things.

Back when I was in government, one day I got word that we were no longer allowed to use the phrase “unionized employees” when briefing the Minister or writing speaking notes for him. Instead, we were to call them (incorrectly) “union employees”. Kinda weird in the Ministry of Labour, hey?

The backstory was that the Minister had gone to a committee meeting and (somehow) spent the meeting talking about “onionized” employees. This went on for so long his own caucus members were laughing aloud at him. Now, you’d think that the Minister, who’d held 5 cabinet posts, might have drawn on his (then) 22 years of experience and thought “I’m responsible for six pieces of legislation about unions and none about the genus allium” and stopped taking about fucking onions….

Clearly, smarts and diligence (i.e., reading your briefing ahead of time and understanding what you are talking about) can mediate a Minister’s performance. Good comportment also helps, as I flash back to a public meeting where this same minister took his shoes off and put his stocking feet on the table to get an uproarious laugh from other (very experienced) MLAs.

Given the (many) contra examples to the “inexperienced = incompetent” hypotheses, what gives with this then? Is it just sour grapes from Tory supporters? Or is it perhaps part of some broader construct that some folks have internalized that ordinary people aren’t capable of governing themselves?

Certainly that view is endemic in management theory, where ever-greater efforts are made to quantify and control workers’ performance. For example, Athabasca University has been implementing a call centre, which tracks and monitors (and interferes with) the interactions of students and academics.

Has performance improved? One internal study I saw last month reported student satisfaction had fallen precipitously. And, anecdotally, the adjustment students and academics are making is to basically avoiding the call centre system by communicating outside of it. Perhaps this suggests that plain ordinary people can be trusted make decisions about their lives and govern themselves sensible and ought to be left to do it? 

Indeed, unions are a good example of how ordinary people can manage their own affairs. Every year, regular folk get voted to be their peers' representatives in their dealings with the employer. While not every union official does a perfect job, most manage to do competent work. And their peers then pass judgment upon their work the next year--by voting them in or out.

-- Bob Barnetson

Monday, May 11, 2015

Research: Underreporting of workplace injuries

A recurring issue with injury statistics is that they tend to be derived from workers’ compensation board claims data and thus under-report the true level of workplace injury. A new article in Occupational and Environmental Medicine entitled “Characteristics of work-related fatal and hospitalised injuries not captured in workers’ compensation data” examines this phenomenon and the patterns within it as well as suggesting a way to cope with it. The study is open access so you can read it by clicking on the link above.

The study found 83% of fatalities (in coroners’ data) and 95% of work-related hospitalizations were captured by workers’ compensation data. This high rate of capture of very serious injuries in workers’ comp-derived stats is not surprising—it is hard to hide a body or convince someone who needs hospitalization to not report an injury.

The study does not engage with the under-reporting of injuries not requiring hospitalization. Injuries that workers can work through (despite some degree of pain) comprise the majority of workplace injuries. These less severe injuries often do not have to be reported and, when they do require reporting, workers can often be persuaded not to report them. Good data on the degree of under-reporting would be helpful—that last really good study on this that I can recall was in about 2003 and didn’t necessaryly tease this issue out.

The study also notes that injuries missing from workers’ compensation claims data tended to be to women, from the fishing/farming industry and injuries to the airway, dislocations and undetermined/unknown injuries. The exclusion of injuries to women is interesting and cries out for more study. It parallels some research my colleague and I are doing around media reports of injuries (where women are basically invisible).

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Tunes: Peace of Mind

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is Boston’s Peace of Mind. Living in the classic-rock radio ghetto of Calgary in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I’ve heard this song likely close to one hundred times but only just recently gave the lyrics some thought. The song is about the pressure to succeed in one’s career and was written about people Tom Scholz worked with at Polaroid in the early 1970s.

As I approach what is essentially the end of my own career path (having no ambitions beyond being a professor), I’m starting to feel work pressure ease a bit. This has created a bit more space for me grapple with Scholz’s admonishment that life is short and we are much less essential to our employers than we might like to imagine. In the end, peace of mind (however we define it) is likely to be more satisfying than workplace accolades.
Now you're climbin' to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn't take too long
Can'tcha you see there'll come a day when it won't matter
Come a day when you'll be gone
I picked an interesting cover of this song by Gary Schutt, where all of the instrumental parts (including the drums) are done on a guitar.

Now if you're feelin' kinda low 'bout the dues you've been paying
Future's coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin'
Can't decide on which way to go

Yeah, yeah, yeah


I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Now you're climbin' to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn't take too long
Can'tcha you see there'll come a day when it won't matter
Come a day when you'll be gone


Take a look ahead, take a look ahead, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Now everybody's got advice they just keep on givin'
Doesn't mean too much to me
Lot's of people out to make-believe they're livin'
Can't decide who they should be.


Take a look ahead, take a look ahead. Look ahead.

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Presentation: WCB and Doctors (Toronto)

The Bancroft Institute is hosting an event on Thursday, May 24 from 10am to 12:30pm in the Charbonnel Lounge, University of St. Michael's (in the University of Toronto), located at 81 St. Mary Street.

The session is entitled "How Characteristics of Workers’ Compensation Systems Affect Doctors: A Comparative Study of Qu├ębec and Ontario" and speakers will include Katherine Lippel, Joan Eakin, Linn Holness and Dana Howse. 

Attendance is free, however a $10.00 donation from waged attendees is encouraged. TTC tokens are available for the unwaged.

-- Bob Barnetson