Friday, August 20, 2021

Labour & Pop Culture: AP Bio

Netflix has recently begin carrying A.P Bio. The show follows a misanthropgic former Harvard philosophy professor (Jack Griffin) who is forced to teach advanced placement biology to nerds in Toledo while living in his dead mom’s Jesus-adorned home.

Episode 2 of Season 1 sees Jack in trouble for failing to supervise his students. Jack is forced to choose between a short suspension and fighting the discipline. If he fights the discipline, he remains suspended with pay and has to hang out in “teacher jail” playing cards and such. Niecy Nash (who is hilarious) plays the union rep “Kim”.

There are two interesting aspects of this storyline. The first is that the union rep and the principal (played by Patton Oswald) have a long history and the union rep uses the grievance to get back at the principal  We rarely get into the complex relationships that develop between union and management reps over time and how these relationships colour the handling of grievances and other business. The idea of a grudge shaping decision-making is quite (and perhaps unintentionally) accurate.

The second is that teacher jail is framed as a bit of a ridiculous place where bad people go to kill time on full pay. This plays a bit into the “malingering worker” trope. What is interesting about teacher jail is how at odds it is with how discipline workers in both in Canada and especially in the US. Basically, workplace discipline sees workers as guilty until proven innocent. If they are innocent, they may get some compensation for their lost wages or jobs but few non-unionized workers can afford to fight discipline.

Arrangements where a worker is suspended with pay pending the employer proving discipline (i.e., innocent until proven guilty) are few and far between, even in unionized environments. Yet this seems like the fairest approach, since the burden of proof falls on the employer and the employer imposing sanctions without actually proving the worker did anything works a great unfairness on workers. It is telling that Jack only has access to this kind of approach because he has a union that’s negotiated a solid contract.

-- Bob Barnetson

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