Swan Song for the Public

By the time this blog is posted, the Canadian federal election will be a thing of the past.  One of the more interesting moments that happened during the election campaign was the suspension of a Federal employee, Tony Turner, for writing a song about Prime Minister Steven Harper.

Mr. Turner provides his perspective on what happened in an interview with MetroNews.

As with many things that did not go as planned during the recent election campaign, the suspension of Mr. Turner received international media and extensive social media coverage.

The suspension brings forward very interesting questions about the employment boundaries that may or may not exist for employees in the public service.  They are employees of the federal government, which is led by the Prime Minister of Canada.  There is generally an accepted understanding that employees should not cause harm to or malign the reputation of their employer in the public domain.  In the case of Mr. Turner, does this mean that he should not have made his personal political opinions public? On the other hand, were his actions significant enough to merit a suspension from employment?

It is not surprising that the union representing Mr. Turner filed a grievance in this case.   As for the outcome, Mr. Turner retired from his work with the public service sector, which means that there will be no formal resolution to this grievance.

While we all know what the outcome to the federal election was, we will never know what the outcome for Mr. Turner through his union, would have been.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should public sector employees be subject to disciplinary action for voicing or engaging in personal political activities?
  2. What advice would you, as the HR Practitioner for the Prime Minister’s office, give to the Prime Minister in this case?
  3. From the employer’s perspective, what specific factors merited disciplinary action against Mr. Turner?
  4. Do you think employees in the public service have a ‘higher’ duty of responsibility to their employer? Why or why not?

Arbitrators in Action

Termination is a Risky Business.

There was a great deal of social media coverage surrounding the firing of a Hydro One employee who contributed to the sexist heckling of a news reporter, in the spring of 2015.  Many commentaries at the time included speculation as to whether or not the termination of this employee would stand.

Since the employee was represented by a union, the termination was grieved and it went to an arbitration hearing.  In this case, the arbitrator made the decision to re-instate the former employee back into employment with Hydro One.

It is interesting to note the slightly different perspectives that each media venue provides; for example,  watch the following coverage provided by Global News.

Click here to read the article.

The coverage includes the perspective of a union spokesperson providing their insight as to what the arbitrator took into consideration when making the determination for reinstatement.   It seems that the former employee’s genuine remorse and public apologies for his conduct were factors that had some influence on the resolution to this situation.  Having said that, we are not given information as to what the employer presented at this hearing, nor are we given information as to all of the facts that the arbitrator had to consider.

In a case such as this, the arbitrator’s decision is final.

What remains to be seen is how this decision will influence other cases in the future regarding the termination of an employee due to their own ‘off-duty’ conduct.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do you think employers in the future will terminate employees for similar off-duty conduct if there is a risk of reinstatement?
  2. Is the risk worth it in order to ‘send a message’ about acceptable social conduct?
  3. Do you agree with the arbitrator’s decision in this situation? Why? Why not?
  4. From a Human Resources perspective, what types of policies need to be defined clearly in the workplace about employee conduct?
  5. Identify two or three different media perspectives through internet links for this case. What are the differences in the messages from each media outlet?

The Positive Effects of Unionization

Human Resources Professionals are very familiar with the negative stereotypes directed towards unions and their members.  Some common utterances heard frequently, are that; Union members are lazy; Unions are no longer needed, as we have better employment laws now; Unions are only in it for themselves; Unions are inflexible and only add expenses to the employer’s costs, etc.

Like any sweeping stereotypical statements, there may be some truth to the above, but it is not always the absolute truth.

Unionization helps at the individual level, the organizational level, and the national level. The following article highlights the many benefits of unions.

Click here to read the article.

Research shows that:

  • Countries that have unions have better economic, social, and environmental policies.
  • The collective bargaining process contributes to higher productivity at a national level
  • There is less income inequality in countries that are unionized

The next time someone is spouting the negative aspects of unionization, add some positive statements into the discussion and remember what unions have accomplished for the worker, organizations, and the countries in which they operate.  You don’t have to like unions, but you have to respect them for what they do and what they have done.

Discussion Questions

  1. Identify 5 ways unions can have a positive effect on organizations
  2. Identify 5 ways unions can have a positive effect on society
  3. Identify 5 ways unions can have a negative effect on organizations
  4. Identify 5 ways unions can have a positive effect on society




The Impact of Unions

All HR professionals working in union and non-union sectors should be aware of what is going on in the working world around them – Being aware is always an asset!

Take a look at the unionization rates in Canada for the past 16 years.  The trend line is constantly dropping and the number of unionized jobs is dropping with it; with the exception of slight increases in 2010 and 2013.

Click here to read Labour Canada’s Statistics on Unionization.

An increase of 1.5 %  in 2013 may not be much, but if Unifor, Canada’s largest union has its way, the trend of decreasing unionization rates is going to change and begin increasing.

What is Unifor planning to do?  Unifor is committing 10% of its revenues or $10 million dollars to organization drives.  In marketing terms, $10 million for growing their business.

Click here to read an article on Unifor’s Organizational Marketing Drive. 

$10 million is a big number!  Are Canadian employers ready for that kind of union marketing push?  Only time will tell if Unifor can reverse the trend and increase union membership by significant levels in Canada.  Unifor already has the organization skills, the process, and the knowledge on how to organize workplaces and now that they have committed the economic resources to the vision as well.

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, HR professionals need to be aware and alert of this possible change.

Discussion Questions

  1. What type of industries do you think Unifor will  try to organize?
  2. What types of  methods do you think they will enlist to engage new members?
  3. How do you think Canadian employers will respond to this type of union marketing?