Friday, February 16, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: Laying Pipe

In honour of Alberta’s efforts to expand the extraction of carbon-dense bitumen (thereby accelerating climate change) by forcing a pipeline through unceded Indigenous lands (so much for a more respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples), this week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “Laying Pipe” by David Wilcox.

I can’t really think of a song that better sums up Alberta’s oil and gas industry and the degree to which Alberta's government is beholden to it. On one level, the song is about men working hard in blue-collar jobs (e.g., drilling for oil, installing sewers, making steel) in an industry where everybody they know also works:
My daddy worked construction
My brother too
He got me in the union
I'm payin' my dues
The job is tough and socially disruptive, but it has its rewards (a boy’s gotta eat, after all):
I don't mind working
If the money's okay
I take the night shift
I sleep all day
On another level, the song is a paean to misogyny—which is deeply embedded in the culture of the upstream oil-and-gas industry. The singer has a gold-digging women that he’s gotta keep in sparkly bobbles:
Oh but the woman I love
Has expensive taste
She's never satisfied
The latest things
A diamond ring
A car with an ultra-glide
Why?

Well, so he can get laid. The whole song is really a clumsy metaphor for screwing women (watch the video):
I'm layin' pipe all night long
Layin' pipe
I'm workin' so hard
I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
To satisfy that woman
As long as one’s getting some, who cares about anything else? Which pretty much sums up Alberta’s efforts to force a pipeline through BC.



My daddy worked construction
My brother too
He got me in the union
I'm payin' my dues

Oh but the woman I love
Has expensive taste
She's never satisfied
The latest things
A diamond ring
A car with an ultra-glide

I work so hard
Payin' for all that stuff
Eight shifts a week
It's never enough

I'm layin' pipe all night long
Layin' pipe
I'm workin' so hard
I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
To satisfy that woman

I don't mind working
If the money's okay
I take the night shift
I sleep all day

Dust and mud is in my blood
Underground cable in my way
I punch a clock and start my rig
Don't know how deep I might have to dig

I wish I had a million dollars
To buy her everything she needs
She'd only come back for more and more and more and more and more and more and more

I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
I'm working so hard
I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
To satisfy that woman

I put the pipe in
I pull it out again
My back is so sore
I can't work much more
I can't get my traction
The ground's too wet
I take a ten minute break
Ah smoke a cigarette
I don't mind the night shift
The cool breeze when the sun goes down
Winter time the ground is hard
Take twice as long to drill down

I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
I'm working so hard
I'm layin' pipe
All night long
Layin' pipe
To satisfy that woman

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Research: Defying expectations: The case of UFCW 401

My colleague Jason Foster has recently published a book entitled Defying expectations: The case of UFCW 401. You can download the book for free at the link above.

This book examines how UFCW 401 (a very scrappy Alberta union) has navigated the past 20 years. The first three chapters provided a good, accessible, and very interesting history of 401. (This was really an enjoyable read.)

The second half of the book examines UFCW’s transformation in light of what we know about union renewal. The academic argument Foster makes is that union renewal can emerge through contingent decision-making. This deviates somewhat from most of the literature on union renewal, which tends to focus on carefully planned renewal efforts.

The book also opens up the internal workings of 401 somewhat, which is unusual. Unions are typically opaque organizations to outsiders (and often insiders!) and this case provides insight into decision-making, power structures, and the inner thinking (or narratives) that emerge from and then drive behaviour.

UFCW operates in a very centralized way and relies heavily on the mystique of and trust in its president. An important question Foster raises is what happens when Doug O’Halloran eventually retires? Will the growing diversity within the union membership trigger a move towards greater internal democracy? Or will we see another strong (wo)man take over?

Reading about 401 is important for a number of reasons. It is one of the few unions (two?) unions that engages in a meaningful level of organizing and it does so among private sector employers who often resist having exploitative employment practices challenged. It is not afraid to strike and, recently, it has been winning strikes. And UFCW is responding (albeit it in mixed ways) to the growing cultural and linguistic diversity among Alberta workers.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 9, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: King of the Road

This week’s installment of Labour and Pop Culture is “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. The song is about a hobo who rides the rails and generally enjoys his freedom. There’s not a lot to this song beyond someone who has basically rejected the strictures of capitalist society.

But this rootless lifestyle has become the basis of a huge book series centering on Jack Reacher. A former army MP who travels around the country solving crimes and hooking up, Reacher is the creation of author Lee Child (a pen name for Jim Grant).

Some writers speculate that Reacher (who left the army after downsizing) was inspired by Child’s own sacking from Garanda Television (after which he wrote his first Reacher book). Child’s, a former union rep, hated injustice and perhaps this explains why the itinerant Reacher always wins against the bad guys.



Trailer for sale or rent
Rooms to let fifty cents
No phone no pool no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah but, two hours of pushing broom
Buys a eight by twelve four bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road

Third boxcar midnight train
Destination Bangor Maine
Old worn out suit and shoes
I don't pay no union dues
I smoke old stoogies I have found
Short but not too big around
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road

I know every engineer on every train
All of the children and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain't locked when no one's around
I sing trailers for sale or rent...

Rooms to let fifty cents
No phone no pool no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah but, two hours of pushing broom
Buys a eight by twelve four bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let fifty cents
No phone no pool no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah but, two hours of pushing broom

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

More PSE fun at the Labour Board

This post continues yesterday’s examination of the recent spate of PSE applications in front of the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB). The three applications we’ll look at today all of which touch on who is in the academic bargaining unit.

The Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) is a bit unusual in that it gives the employer the right to designate (after consultation with the academic staff association) who is the association. In almost every other bargaining relationship, the composition of the bargaining unit is determined by the ALRB. This reflects that the ALRB (unlike the employer) has no vested interest in terms of who is in and out of the unit.

Bill 17 retained this unusual designation arrangement but allowed unions to appeal employer decision to the ALRB under s.58.6 of the Labour Relations Code. In the past, there was no meaningful right of appeal unless the employer failed to consult and the union went to court.

NORQUEST COLLEGE UFLP
The NorQuest College Faculty Association has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against NorQuest College. The college laid off a number of academic staff members last June. There are two issues here.

First, the union asserts that the manner of the layoffs entailed the employer negotiating directly with the staff members (instead of with the union). According to the union, the employer called the three permanent employees into a meeting. While the union was given notice of the meeting several days before, it was not told the meeting was about layoffs until minutes before the meeting.

After the group meeting, the college simultaneously met with each employee individually. The union, having arranged for only one rep to attend the meeting, could not then cover each of the one-on-one meetings. During these one-on-one meetings, the college required each staff member to sign an agreement in order to get the severance pay that they were due under the collective agreement. The signed agreement precluded the employees from filing a grievance.

The union alleges this process violates s.148(1)(a)(ii) of the Labour Relations Code, which says:
148(1) No employer or employers’ organization and no person acting on behalf of an employer or employers’ organization shall

(a) participate in or interfere with

(ii) the representation of employees by a trade union,
Basically, the employer negotiated with each of the laid off employers individually when it asked hem to sign a release that waiver grievance rights (rights which properly reside with the union).

Second (and here is the designation tie in), the jobs were then re-created as support staff jobs in the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) bargaining unit. According to the union, the employer’s lack of consultation about this move violates the employer’s obligation under the designation provisions of the Post-Secondary Learning Act (which requires consultation). Further, the “new” support-staff positions have higher academic qualifications than the former academic positions and the duties have not changed meaningfully.

Various responses are available on line. This gist is:
College: We need more details.
Union: Here you go, dude.
College: We didn’t do anything wrong (although we did ask the employees to sign the releases and we’ve stopped doing that now).
NORTHERN LAKES COLLEGES: MUSICAL CHAIRS
There are 120ish academic staff at Northern Lakes College and 10 or 11 department chairs. The union is seeking to have the chairs included in the academic staff bargaining unit under s.58.6 of the Code.

The union asserts the chairs have no authority to hire, fire or discipline and thus are not managers (who would traditionally be excluded from a bargaining unit) and also that the college failed to consult the union when it designated chairs out of the unit in 1997.

The college’s response is that the union’s application is premature as the union did not ask the Board to designate the chairs into the unit. Until such time, the college asserts, the ALRB has no jurisdiction and, further, the 1997 designation decision (made under different legislation) is outside of the ALRB’s jurisdiction. Interestingly, some (or all?) of the chairs have written to the Board and be all like, no way, Jose.

KEYANO COLLEGE: BY HOOK OR BY CROOK
Finally, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has applied to the ALRB to over turn the college’s designation of contract instructors as academic staff. CUPE currently represents non-academic workers at Keyano. CUPE tried to expand its certificate to include a group of 36 unrepresented instructors last summer but lacked support and withdrew its application.

CUPE then tried to over bargain its certificate and have the instructors into their contract but the employer declined this offer. CUPE then continued its organizing efforts only to find that the Board designated all contract instructors into the academic bargaining unit in December.

CUPE alleges that neither CUPE nor the faculty association were consulted and, by failing to consult CUPE, the college’s designation decision violated the PSLA. It is not perfectly clear what remedy CUPE wants, but it looks like they want the designation over turned, presumably so they can continue to organize among this group.

The college argues that it has no obligation to consult with CUPE since CUPE is neither the academic staff association nor a bargaining agent that represents affected members. The faculty association basically falls in line with the employer, advancing two alternative arguments: the collective bargaining met any requirement for consultation and, since CUPE does not represent academic staff, it has no right to consultation under the PSLA. There is also an argument presented that the ALRB cannot review procedural matters in this case, only the substantive decision.

Overall, these applications suggest there is going to be quite a Bill 7 shakedown cruise over the next bit as the parties all get used to the new rules and try to use them to their advantage. One good thing that has come out of Bill 7 is that there is now a clear and timely process by which unfair labour practices and other issues can be resolved.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

ALRB hearing on U of L bargaining units

In the spring of 2017, Alberta passed Bill 17 (An Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Bargaining), which brought significant changes to the collective bargaining in Alberta’s post-secondary education (PSE) sector. At the time, the biggest change was shifting the way bargaining impasse was resolved from interest arbitration to strike-lockout.

Bill 17 also gave workers and their unions rights under the Labour Relations Code. Not surprisingly, there is now a spate of applications before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) that centre on who is in and out of the bargaining unit (colloquially called "designation").

Today I’m going to look at the situation at the University of Lethbridge (U of L). I’ll look at the other applications tomorrow.

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) has applied to the ALRB for a determination about whether it must negotiate one collective agreement (for all of its members) or (as the U of L contends) two agreements (one for 480 regular faculty and one for 120ish sessionals). There are other subsidiary issues in the application but this is the crux of the dispute.

The U of L likely wants to bargain these groups separately in order to reduce the strike power of the staff and drive rollbacks. ULFA, of course, has the opposite interests. ULFA hinges its assertion that there is a single bargaining unit on s.58.3(1)(c) of the Labour Relations Code, which states:
58.3(1) For the purposes of this Act, 
(c) the academic staff association of a public post-secondary institution is, subject to the future effects of the application of Divisions 4 to 9 under section 58.2(2), the bargaining agent for the academic staff of the public post-secondary institution and has exclusive authority to bargain collectively on behalf of the academic staff and to bind them by a collective agreement.
The U of L makes a lengthy set of arguments based mainly on traditional labour-relations considerations about bargaining units and is trying to get the sessionals placed in a separate unit (or at least forced to negotiate separately).

I suspect at hearing (scheduled for February 12-13) that the U of L’s arguments will founder on the language of the Code, which makes the academic staff association “the bargaining agent for academic staff” which can bind “the academic staff” to “a collective agreement”. All of this is written in the singular which is tough language for the U of L to argue around.

Despite the scheduled hearing to resolve these issues, last week the U of L served notice to bargain just the sessional unit on ULFA. The notice to bargain opens virtually every article affecting sessionals (except wages and a few others). Both the act of serving notice and the scope of bargaining appears like a fairly aggressive move to me.

It is not really clear why the U of L would act this way--I suspect it is about money and grinding cost out of the sessional contract. All of the PSEs are in some financial distress due to the government's tuition freeze and limited grant increases after decades of underfunding by the Tories.

That said, the U of L has become increasingly aggressive with ULFA over the past two years. The most public dispute has been the case of professor Tony Hall (whose views are pretty reprehensible). The meta-narrative is that the university was heavy handed, did not respect its collective agreement (including basic natural-justice principles like due process), and, after legally bungling the whole matter and spending a bunch of dough of lawyers, had to eat a bunch of crow.

The facts are that, in late 2016, the U of L suspended Hall without pay pending an investigation into accusations of anti-Semitism. The manner of the suspension violated Hall’s rights to due process under the collective agreement and ULFA grieved, seeking to send the matter to arbitration. The U of L denied that the collective agreement applied and stalled appointing an arbitrator. 

In January 2017, the U of L also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission but reinstated Hall’s pay. It is unclear what the status of this complaint it (these take years to resolve) but, as this blog post suggests, it is unlikely to end well for the U of L. Given Hall's behaviour, I expect we'll hear about the conclusion at length.

Things then got procedurally messy and the matter ended up in court (if you care, you can read the facts in the QB decision). In September, 2017, the Court of Queen’s Bench summarily dismissed the U of L’s application to further stall the appointment of an arbitrator.

In November, 2017, Hall’s suspension was lifted and ULFA and the U of L indicated the matter will be dealt with within the scope of the collective agreement (which is what should have happened in the first place). So good work there, U of L... .

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 2, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: North Country

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture looks at the 2005 film North Country. The film is a fictionalized account of Jenson v. Eveleth Mines (1984), one of the first successful sexual harassment lawsuits in the US.

Jenson endured harassment from male mine employees beginning when she commenced employment in 1975. Jensen’s 1984 efforts to gain redress from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights were unsuccessful and she faced further harassment in retaliation.

In 1988, she and 14 other women at the mine filed a class-action suit against their employer. As the suit progressed, Jensen resigned due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite an invasive discovery process, the women won. The 1995 judgment, however, was profoundly damaging to the women and they appealed the miniscule damages award. The company eventually settled in 1998 for $3.5 in damages.

It has been awhile since I’ve seen this film. But, given the recent profile of harassment in Hollywood, it might be worth watching again. Interestingly, the only other block-buster style films I could find about sexual harassment were 9 to 5 (1980), the wretched Disclosure (1994), and Horrible Bosses (2011). The latter two reverse the usual power dynamic to portray men as the victims.

-- Bob Barnetson