Tuesday, August 20, 2019

More OHS violations at Athabasca University

Last week, I wrote about Athabasca University’s awful new OHS training. One positive outcome of staff outrage about the training is that they are now talking openly about AU’s hypocrisy around preaching workplace safety while not taking any action on it.

For example, I recently received a bunch of photos of a tripping hazard in the library that has gone unremediated for more than a year despite repeated complaints.

The library has a set of moveable book shelves. These save space by eliminating the need for permanent aisles between the stacks. When you need a book, you crank open space between two stacks and go get it (you can see the crank system in the picture above).

The shelves travel on metal rails embedded in the floor. The rest of the floor is carpeted. The carpet has been pulling up where it abuts the rails, creating a tripping hazard (see above). In a likely related phenomenon, elsewhere the carpeting is buckling (because it is too loose), which also creates a tripping hazard (see below).

This has been a long-term issue that staff flagged for action in the summer of 2018. While it is easy to dismiss things like tripping hazards as no big deal, falls account for about 20% of serious injuries in Alberta. The vast majority of these injuries are caused by falls on the same level. These are all caused by tripping hazards and are virtually all preventable.

Initially, AU’s response was to promise to glue the carpet down. Because the carpet was normally under the stacks, this could be done only one piece at a time. Because of the smell from the glue, the plan was to do it late on Fridays over a series of weeks so the smell could dissipate over the weekend.

This was a good response. Unfortunately, after a single section was fixed, work stopped for reasons unknown (possibly because the glue didn't work). Shortly thereafter, the lifted sections were duct taped down.

This hazard control strategy is likely not compliant with s. 9 of the OHS Code which requires employers to eliminate the hazard (rather than just slap a quick fix on). Not surprisingly, duct tape was not an effective fix and has since lifted.

Staff again raised the issue in November of 2018 but there was no further action. Fast forward t this year when a staff member almost tripped. This reflects that, when going into the stacks to retrieve a book, one’s eyes are on the books, not the floor. Another complaint was lodged. Facilities was notified but, other than the (bizarre) placement of an orange traffic cone (???), no further remediation has occurred.

This lame response to a well known and identified hazard is contrary to AU’s obligations under the OHS Act. How this hazard hasn't been identified in the required quarterly walk-around inspections of the worksite by the Joint OHS Committee is unclear. The likely answer is that the inspections aren't happening as required by s.197 of the OHS Code.

The OHS Act requires workers report hazards (done!) and then:
3(1) Every employer shall ensure, as far as it is reasonably practicable for the employer to do so, 
(f) that health and safety concerns raised by workers, supervisors, self-employed persons and the joint work site health and safety committee or health and safety representative are resolved in a timely manner, and 
Pretty clearly, AU has (once again) failed to meet its obligations under the OHS Act. So what are workers to do?

Well, they could complain again. Since multiple complaints have yielded no meaningful action, that is probably useless. This dynamic (complaints being ineffective resulting in fewer complaints) is actually a well established phenomenon in the study of employment rights. It reflects that workers aren’t stupid and can accurately calculate whether filing complaints are worth their time.

The staff could also refuse unsafe work, as is their right under the Act. Workers are often fearful that exercising their OHS rights will result in (illegal) retaliation. A 2016 study of 2000 Alberta workers found that, of the workers who faced unsafe work, only one third refused the unsafe work.

When non-refusers were ask why the didn’t refuse:
32% of non-refusers indicated they did not want to be known as a troublemaker and 14% indicated they specifically feared punishment for refusing unsafe work. Supervisor and coworker pressure to keep working was cited by 16% and 14% of non-refusers, respectively (p. 8).
When refusers were asked about their experiences of refusing, only 23.8% said the employer made the work safer. Again we see the rational calculation by workers: refusals entail significant risk and have a low prospect of success.

Not surprisingly, AU workers have not (yet) refused this unsafe work. An organized, group refusal would probably be the most effective approach here. If the group held firm, work would stop and an OHS officer would need o attend the worksite.

A less risky option would be for an employee to anonymously phone (1-866-415-8690) the government’s OHS inspectors or fill out an online complaint and report the noncompliance with the Act. This will generate a site visit (eventually), a compliance order and, several months from now, maybe even a remedy. A work refusal would likely get faster results.

I would guess the most likely outcome will be that workers will take no action, try to be careful and avoid the hazard, and, eventually, someone will get hurt. This reflects that there is very littletrust in senior administration at AU, particularly around health and safety issues (and for good reason).

The odds that AU will take action to remedy the hazard (e.g., call a carpet installer to fucking fix the problem or replace the flooring) is pretty slim. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs, but there you go.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Athabasca U's new worker safety training is terrible

On June 1, 2018, changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act took effect. A key change was the requirement for employers with 20 or more workers to have an OHS program. The OHS program must include a safety orientation and training for workers (s.37(1)(g)).

The content of this training is not specified beyond the requirement in ss.3(1)(b) and 3(2) that workers must be aware of their rights and duties and of any health and safety issues arising from the work being conducted.

Athabasca University failed to comply with this training requirement and received a compliance order in late 2018. In late July of 2019 (i.e., 14 months late), the university rolled out its new OHS training. Basically, AU bought access to an online self-paced training product and demanded all employees complete it within 10 days.

Hilariously, the rollout by HR looked like a phishing attack. So, as they’ve been trained, many staff deleted the email unread, and IT immediately blocked access to the website. But at least we know the IT security training is working!

When things eventually shook out, I took the training offered by AU. It is basically a online powerpoint with 118 screens, a few simple activities, and a 10-question multiple-choice test at the end. It took me about 20 minutes to read everything and complete the test (10/10!).

There are numerous shortcomings with this training. Most obviously, this training lacks any applicability to most AU employees, with lengthy sections early on about due diligence (an employer topic, focused on reducing liability for injury) and hand tools and machinery (relevant to about 3 employees). Providing clearly irrelevant training is a sure-fire way to trigger learner disengagement. You’d think this is a dynamic Canada’s leader in distance education might be aware of.

Not surprisingly, I have heard multiple reports of people getting fed up and clicking through the slides as fast as possible and just doing the activities and tests based upon common sense. Given the generic and largely irrelevant nature of the content, I don’t imagine AU cares about this. This training is clearly about making AU minimally (and finally!) compliant with the OHS Act, rather than actually improving safety or giving workers useful information or skills.

There are several places where the training clearly blames the workers for injuries and prescribes injury-prevention techniques that completely ignore the root cause of injury and the hierarchy of controls. For example, the slide below (used under fair dealing provisions) notes that equipment can cause hand injuries but the most common cause is employee error (boredom, inattentiveness, distraction).

While it is easy to identify the proximate (i.e., immediate) cause of injury, to reduce injury we have to look at the root cause. Specifically, why are employees bored, distracted or inattentive? The answer here is found in the way the employer has designed the job to make it boring, overwhelming, or disengaging. But fixing the root cause (i.e., eliminating the hazard by designing better jobs) is way harder and more expensive than simply blaming the employees.

The training then goes on to say cuts and lacerations are among the most common injuries. “This is even true of secretaries, who can be cut by paper edges and punctured by staplers, scissors and thumbtacks.” Setting aside the anachronistic term for administrative assistants, suggesting “even secretaries” can get hurt is deeply insulting.

Administrative staff are some of the most at-risk for injuries due to the repetitive nature of their work (e.g., RSIs and other ergonomic-related injuries) and their relative lack of power (e.g., leading to harassment by coworkers). This part of the training was profoundly tone deaf to the realities of Athabasca University.

The training contains a number of elements that several staff have found objectionable. For example, the slide below shows a man forcing a female to photocopy her face (I think—that’s the consensus, anyways).

This is (1) a ridiculous example of violence that (2) both obscures and trivializes actual forms of harassment and violence faced by AU employees and that (3) several workers have found extremely triggering. Is this seriously the best imagery that a professional training organization could come up with?

Similarly, the section on workplace violence is headlined by this image:

Now, I expect that many AU employees have idly fantasized about doing this. But it is not representative of the actual issues faced by AU employees. The most likely kind of violence at AU is verbal and directed at front-line and support staff (who are mostly women). I’m not suggesting that physical violence should be ignored or that women can’t act violently. The point is that this cartoonish representation of violence trivializes the issue by showing us an uncommon and frankly unlikely example.

The training does touch on the issue of working alone, which is important, as half of AU 1100 employees work from home offices. It recommends some sort of check-in procedure. Alberta’s OHS Code actually requires more than that when workers work by themselves and cannot be seen or heard by people capable of rendering help (which is the case for many AU home workers). AU is, in fact, probably in violation of this requirement. The irony of flagging working alone as a risk but AU doing nothing about it is not lost on home workers.

Moving on, the OHS Act requires employers to make employees aware of both their rights and obligations. There is a fair bit of information on employee obligations but only really two screens that deal with employee OHS rights. One lists the rights and the other briefly discusses how employees go about refusing unsafe work.

I expect this meets the minimal requirements under the Code, but it really does little to empower workers. That makes sense since employers generally don't want workers asking questions like “why is the fire hose missing?” The desire to keep workers subservient also likely explains why there is no mention of unions in the training.

The training ends with three slides addressing injury and return to work. The role of AU’s various unions in return to work (as set out in policy) is absent in the training. Further, the training mentioned requirements for communication set out in Bill C-99. I have no idea what is in reference to.

The only thing I could find was some 1996 legislation in Ontario (Bill 99, the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act). This has no application in Alberta or to Athabasca University (although recent changes to Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Act may be relevant). You’d kinda think a professional training firm or AU’s own OHS staff might have caught such a basic error?

The activities and test in the training were insulting and poorly designed. Consider this activity to test whether trainees have understood the section on personal protective equipment (PPE):

Even if you have never taken any OHS training, surely you could figure out which piece of PPE is best way to protect your HAND when you handle a hot item. (Hint: it is not the boot). The question itself is deeply insulting: a grade 2 student could answer this correctly so asking adults to do it tells them that the trainer thinks they are morons. As a way to self-test workers’ knowledge, this activity provides only the most superficial indication of whether workers understand the requirement for and use of PPE.

Similarly, the test questions include things like:
  • True or false: you should check the back seat for creepy dudes before getting in your car. 
  • If the ladder is missing a rung you should: (a) fix with duct tape, (b) step-over the missing rung carefully, or (c) get it fixed.
  • True or false: It’s cool to climb up shelves if you can't find a ladder.
These questions provide (at best) a superficial assessment of worker knowledge about their rights and how to handle safety issues. Any rando at the mall could pass this test without ever having seen the training. And, indeed, that is basically what is happening with employees—people are ignoring the training because it sucks.

No one really benefits from superficial compliance with the law. Workers remain at risk and the employer will see disengagement continue to rise (negatively affecting productivity). The lousy training is just the latest issue in HR with OHS and return to work. It is probably time to clean house and bring in new staff.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Unions and the USS Enterprise

A friend passed me this 1977 song about organizing a union on the USS Enterprise (ST:TOS). The absence of unions in Star Trek (excepting one episode of Deep Space 9) is quite notable. This song moots how a Starfleet crew might be induced to organize and how this would affect ship operations.

Listen and I'll tell you a tale I've been told
Of a union organizer who knocked a starship cold They met where the stars are squattered thin out along the galactic rim And starfleet command is sorry that they ever ran into him Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Now the ship was patrolling rim stars when she got a call for aid And up come a local convoy in a hurried grim parade Saying Captain we've caught a monster whose far much for us by far So take him and throw him into the heart of the nearest star Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Just why do you need a whole convoy the Captain wished to know Three ships to guard the other less decrepit as we go Now the Captain was intrigued and he said stand by for scan But all that showed on the viewing screen was little ol'union man Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man The Captain said I can take him and he beamed the man aboard The convoy turned and raced away crying Thank the Lord Then the Captain looked him over asking just what's going on That they sent out half their trading fleet just to make sure you were gone. Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man The little old man just chuckled saying Captain don't you know My job is organizing wherever I may go And I can build a union out of anything you got And the folks that run that planet well they disliked that a lot Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man I first organized the laborers Then i unionized the clerks Then i unionized the robots that staffed the atomic works But when I organized the milk cows and led them out on strike Well you can guess what official reaction to that was like Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Amazing said the Captain but you cant do that in here My crew are loyal navy men and we've no cause for fear But he heard the old man saying as he walked out the door Captain, yano, there have so been navy unions before Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Well the Captain soon forgot him setting course for starbase five For all he saw the union man he might not ever of been alive Till a troubled ensign asked him 'is it true sir what they say? That we've got high hazard duty without high hazard pay?' Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Well the Captain couldn't answer except to say its true Starfleet could pay you better but there's not much I can do But when he woke up next morning he found out what moral was like For the bridge was filled with pickets and the whole crew was on strike Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Then the union man walked up and said I'm sorry to trouble you But your ship is now a job shop of the I-W-W-U We've sent our demands to Starfleet command and they said they'd grant us none So we're just gonna keep on sailing till this strike is won Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man Now further we've decided to run this co-op style Giving everyone experience at each others job awhile We like you too much to dump you at the first starbase we see But we bolted you to the galley and this weeks command to me Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man So somewhere down in the galley you'll find poor Captain Kirk Scrubbing away on dishes swearing it'll never work And Spock as he dries those dishes says 'It might succeed I fear' And please Sir while you're washing don't splash water in my ear Pull up your guns Run while you can Look out here comes the union man

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Athabasca U survey reveals lack of trust in senior executive

Earlier this spring, Athabasca University undertook an external survey of staff engagement. The results are below the industry average and entail significant skepticism about the trustworthiness of AU’s senior leadership. For those who didn’t attend the presentations in mid-July and don’t have an hour to spend watching the video, here is a quick summary.

The consultant making the presentation took pains to note that engagement differs from satisfaction. Engagement is intended to heightened workers’ emotional and intellectual connection with the employer in order to increase employees’ discretionary effort. I’m not sure openly seeking to manipulate workers’ behaviour is super motivating, but, hey, at least the consultant was honest about the intent.

The response rate was 55% (610 responses), which missed the goal of 80% and was lower than the 2014 response rate of 68%. The response rate does match the industry benchmark (public and private colleges and universities) of 54%. The consultant asserted that 45% non-response was likely not significant because the non-respondents’ answers likely mirror the respondents’ answers.

I suspect there is likely a systematic difference between those who filled out the survey and those who didn’t. And it probably centres on the respondents’ level of engagement. Surely such a difference that would be surely germane to the results of… an engagement survey. I suspect that a complete picture would add to the negative side of the ledger.

Overall, AU scored consistently below industry benchmarks on all dimensions of engagement. The bottom half of the figure below shows significant problems with communication, student focus, teamwork, and senior leadership. (Orange is bad throughout the figures.)

The consultant largely dismissed these negative scores as common issues (despite the deviation from the benchmarks) and not particularly relevant to driving engagement (key dimensions being professional growth, organizational vision and senior leadership). Setting aside the issue of whether engagement is a valid concept, from a common-sense perspective, these scores are bad news.

Questions specific to AU’s I-CARE values were asked. (Apologies for the murkiness of the screen grab.) The most interesting finding is that only 46% of respondents believe that AU executive behave in way that is consistent with the values that the executive created as part of its Imagine-ary strategic plan.

When asked about senior leadership (basically the university’s executive), only 39% of respondents believe that senior leaders act consistently (i.e., do as they say). This is 13% below the benchmark. And only 43% of staff have trust and confidence in the exec’s ability to achieve the goals of Athabasca University, 15% below benchmark.

Only half of respondents agreed the executive clearly communicates their goals, 5% below benchmark. Only 48% believed executive set ambitious but realistic goals, 10% below benchmark. The open-ended comments provided by respondents will not be shared with staff (even though historically such comments were shared). The consultant did note that a key demand expressed in the comments was for communication that was not so highly torqued by spin.

An example of this is the president’s bi-weekly email (“Neil’s Notes”), which is clich├ęd, saccharine, studiously avoids commenting on contentious (i.e., internally important) issues at the university, and sometimes borders on incomprehensible. After a year of trying to see value in it, Neil's Notes now goes directly to my junk folder.

Despite the endless communication from the university, there remain communication problems. For example, only 43% of respondents understand what needs to be done for AU to succeed in the long term. This is 10% below benchmark. 

There also appear to be issues around innovation. Only 40% of respondents agreed that there was a culture of innovation at AU, 16% below benchmark. Only 43% agreed that AU systematically adopts new and improved ways to work (17% below benchmark). 

Respondents also flagged concerns about limited professional growth opportunities. According to the consultant, low scores here often indicate disengagement (but not a 45% non-response rate?).

There are apparently significant differences between groups at AU but these differences will also not be provided to all staff. The results for the IT unit were presented to IT staff last Wednesday and were notably worse than the institutional average. This is surprising given that 20% of the unit comprises new hires who should not be jaded so soon.

The consultant confirmed that the recent and unpleasant round of faculty collective bargaining was on the minds of some respondents and likely contributed to the poor results.

Only the president and HR director get to see the written comments. The irony of telling staff to trust the senior exec to correctly interpret and act on comments collected on a survey where staff indicated they demonstrably don't trust the senior exec has not been lost on the staff I’ve spoken to about this. The father-knows-best vibe is playing poorly among workers, who are used to drawing their own conclusions about what information means.

This survey does help quantify the morale problem that is clearly evident to anyone who works inside AU. Given the effort made to improve AU’s culture by the current executive (which at this point seem to have degenerated to sloganeering about some imaginary “oneAU” and calling staff “AU team members”), this survey demonstrates the executive’s approach is not effective. 

A question that was not asked in the presentations was why the Board re-appointed the president before the Board received these results (or, indeed, even had the survey conducted)? When this was asked last fall, the answer was the president’s review had to be done quickly to meet government mandate for a new contract. Whether or not it is true, that explanation is being greeted with eye rolls and disbelief. This level of cynicism is the organizational equivalent of cancer.

Perhaps a rethink by the executive of their approach is in order over the summer? With all three unions likely in collective bargaining in the next 18 months and the slow drain of jobs from the Athabasca area continuing, morale and organizational effectiveness are unlikely to improve with a status quo approach.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Bargaining retrospective: AU Xmas Eve Massacre

Neil Fassina. Photo courtesy David Climenhaga
One of the more interesting episodes in the last round of bargaining between the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) and Athabasca University (AU) was a blow-up over AU giving its staff an extra half-day off on Christmas Eve.

This gift (putatively in recognition of staff’s hard work) violated the statutory freeze period on employers altering the terms and conditions of work that were in effect for AUFA members during collective bargaining. AU could have gotten around this bar by asking AUFA’s permission, but didn’t. (I can’t imagine AUFA rejecting a half day off, if asked.)

AUFA objected to the employer offering this sort of inducement during bargaining because this behaviour is against the law and because AUFA didn’t want to face estoppel arguments (i.e., you didn’t object last time) if the employer decided in the future to make other, less desirable amendments to the days of work. An exchange of letters followed.

In this exchange, AU threatened to withhold future time off because AUFA had complained:
Your letter has accordingly caused us to revisit the University’s practice in relation to providing this half-day to AUFA staff. We will be reconsidering whether we will be providing this time off in the future, or if we will require AUFA staff to work all of December 24th. We hope to avoid any future issues in relation to this or any similar practices.
The university’s president then sent an email to all staff (including workers represented by CUPE and AUPE) and included most (but not all) of the correspondence.

Because workers aren’t stupid, they immediately saw the president’s implicit threat of retaliation that I would summarize as “if you exercise your rights under the Labour Relations Code, we’ll make you work to the bitter end on Christmas Eve” (which has always been the practice anyhow).

This caused a small shit storm within (and between) the various unions. This was not unexpected. The reason for AUFA demanding AU not offer AUFA members inducements during bargaining without AUFA’s permission (i.e., it undercuts AUFA’s position as bargaining agent) is hard to see. By contrast, the threat of not receiving a half day off has an immediate and tangible effect on non-AUFA employees.

An explanation by AUFA partly calmed the waters. Interestingly, it also triggered a backlash against AU. The president’s email attempted to frame the issue as one of AUFA being unreasonable and uncivil:
AU is simply taken aback and disappointed by AUFA’s objection to the University closing early and enabling employees to leave work early on Christmas Eve to be with their loved ones. I am without words to describe the disappointment of being falsely accused of a union-rejection or anti-union strategy because the University closed early and sent employees home with full pay, on Christmas Eve.

In line with the University’s commitment to being open and transparent, I have attached copies of both AUFA’s formal complaint against AU and our response to that complaint.
That the president’s framing ignored the actual issue raised (i.e., AU violated the Labour Code and undermined AUFA) undercut the president’s credibility. His rather obvious misdirection also undercut his claim of being respectful and transparent.

Respect and transparency are party of the i-CARE values that the president has hung his hat on but keeps allowing his staff to violate. These values are now being openly referred to as the i-don't-CARE values (more on this in the coming weeks).

The divisive effect of his framing, the lack of an apology, and the timing of his missive (the day before bargaining and as it was about to reach impasse) was also noted.

There are a number of conclusions we can draw here:

1. Workers’ aren’t stupid. When provided with fulsome information, they draw reasonable conclusions. Half-assed attempts by an employer to “spin” problems away backfired. They helped solidify support for the bargaining team and further undermined the credibility of the employer. An earnest and fulsome apology would have been a far more effective way to resolve this issue. Maybe next time AU will follow the law?

2. Public-sector employers are touchy about negative press. A single, largely ignored blog post (referred to in the president’s email as “accusations raised in public forums”) triggered an ill-conceived over-reaction. This did nothing but confirm that bad press was a very effective lever for the union. The president has since complained he’s be subjected to cyber bullying. Given the actual bullying faced by staff on his watch, this claim has been greeted with eye rolls and faux sympathy.

3. The employer was also struggling to negotiate within the then-new rules of bargaining (such as being subject to the Labour Code). That the labour-relations staff in HR did not identify the half-day off as a prohibited practice is disappointing. That they responded to a complaint with a threat of retaliation is even more so. Neither of these things is surprising, however.

It will be interesting to see if AU has learned any of these lessons in the next round of collective bargaining, which will start (likely) in April).

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why might Co-ops treat workers poorly?

One of the most consistently interesting blogs about work is Organizing Work. Over the past few months, they have posted a couple of related articles about co-ops and unions. Co-operatives (i.e., member-owned operations) often have a lot of street cred with progressives.

Historically, co-ops featured prominently in the Antigonish Movement and on the prairies, where workers sought to break the monopolies they faced as producers and consumers. Modern versions (e.g., Mountain Equipment Co-op, various credit unions) keep this model alive.

Yet not everything is peachy-keen in the co-op movement. For example, UFCW 1400 members engaged in a protracted strike with the Saskatoon Co-op over the winter to push back against two-tier wage scales (i.e., lower wages for new workers). After six months, UFCW members narrowly accepted a deal that includes a two-tier wage system.

Organizing Work undertook some analysis of the track record of grocery co-ops in the US and Canada to see if the Saskatoon dispute was an aberration or was symptomatic of a broader pattern of union busting and worker exploitation.

The article is a worth a read but the upshot is that coops often treat workers poorly and engage in union busting. In part, this reflects that co-ops are intended to benefit their consumer members, not their workers.

Grinding workers wages is one strategy to keep prices down. There is also some interesting analysis in the article of how three inter-related entities seem to be pushing a more corporate form of co-op management.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Unions & Sci-fi: Hunger Makes the Wolf

I recently finished two sci-fi westerns by Alex Wells in which a union made an appearance. Hunger Makes the Wolf (2017) and Blood Binds the Pack (2018) follow the adventures of Hob Ravani as she leads a group of outlaws (the Ghost Wolves) on the bone-dry corporate planet of Tenegewa.

Tenegewa is dominated by the TransRift Corporation (which controls interstellar travel). TransRift has established a number of corporate towns (both mining and farming), which harken back to Appalachia in the 1930s (or 1970s!).

The heavy-handed tactics of TransRift are sometimes collectively resisted by the miners, who might call a day of rest and thereby reduce production. Over the course of the two novels, the situation faced by the miners deteriorates and they become more militant.

While I don’t think they ever refer to themselves as a union, the miners employer a number of traditional labour tactics, including striking. They are also subjected to numerous traditional employer tactics, include infiltration, starvation, and violence.

Ravani’s bandits eventually work in collaboration with the miners to undermine TransRift and give the distant government a pretext for more involvement (there is a power struggle between the government and TransRift over space-travel technology).

Overall, the books do a decent job of portraying the process of organizing workers. I found the books a touch long but hung on to the end.

-- Bob Barnetson