Winning the Battle


“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

This seems to be the perfect proverb when applied to the successful organizing drive by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) in its persistent efforts to represent part-time college support staff.

The efforts to unionize the workforce of approximately 20,000 part-time employees took over fourteen years. The first attempts by OPSEU began in 2005. The bargaining unit was certified by the Ontario Labour Relations Board in January 2018. A first collective agreement was achieved between OPSEU and the College Employer Council in February, 2019.

This chronology of events is significant for many reasons. First, it outlines the challenging processes that unions face when trying to form a bargaining unit that included thousands of workers. Second, the workforce was transient – meaning that there was high turnover of employees from contract to contract or term to term. Support staff in Ontario’s college sector did not have the benefit of job security given their part-time status. Further, these workers did not have the procedural rights, such as the ability to file grievances or the consistent application of wage increases, when comparing these rights to their permanent, full-time unionized colleagues.

An analysis of the impact of the successful organizing drive and the collective bargaining process is outlined in a recent article posted by Canadian HR Reporter.

Click here to read the article.

This article provides us with a solid overview of the processes involved through the various steps of an organizing campaign. It also articulates some of the elements of resistance taken by the employer for this particular union drive.

As noted through the article, the union and the employer were locked in the struggle over unionization for such a long time. Now that the battle for representation and the first collective agreement is over, it will be interesting to see whether or not they are able to progress through peaceful labour relations for the next fourteen years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the significance of having union cards signed by employees in order to be represented by a union?
  2. From the article, identify three potential benefits that unionization brings to part-time college support staff.
  3. Who is the employer for college support staff in Ontario? Who does the employer represent?
  4. In your opinion, why would the employer resist unionization for this workforce?

Testing Times

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In the spring of 2017, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was finally successful in implementing random drug and alcohol testing for its employees. This initiative came into play as a result of a six year process of protracted labour relations and legal wrangling over the implementation of a fitness for duty policy that seeks to improve workplace safety.

Click here to read the court’s approval for testing as announced by the TTC.

It is not surprising that the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, or any union, would be opposed to the implementation of random drug and/or alcohol testing in the workplace. In Canada, as employees, we generally enjoy a certain level of personal privacy and restrictions on potentially invasive procedures in the workplace. Any worker would expect to have these restrictions and rights reinforced by their union that fought hard and won these work related rights years ago.

In this case, however, the potential safety rights of the public seem to have provided a tipping point that moved this case out of the courts and into the public domain. Once implemented, the TTC’s drug and alcohol testing program provided immediate results. On the first day of random testing, two workers were found to be impaired and on the job, which would seem to justify the need for the program from the perspective of customer and public safety. As the program has continued, the findings of employees testing positive for drug and/or alcohol use have also continued. Most recently, a vehicle operator failed the drug test, raising the safety concerns again for both the workplace and for the public who find themselves potentially at risk as a result of an individual’s alleged actions.

Click here to read and see news coverage on the TTC vehicle operator who failed the drug test.

The process that is described in the media focuses on the key messages of employee disciplinary action in order to ensure public safety. Of course, as members of the public, we need to be assured that no-one is put in harm’s way when using public transit.

As Human Resources practitioners, however, we know that these matters are not so simple. In this puzzle over whose rights must be protected, where does the duty to accommodate come into play? Does the need to ensure public safety override the employer’s obligations under the human rights code? Does a failed drug test mean the end of employment for any employee?

Each of these questions needs a thoughtful response from a Human Resources perspective. Hopefully, you will have had lots of time to think about them the next time you exit safely from that bus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. From an HR perspective, what issues come to mind for you as you read and watch the news articles linked to drug testing at the TTC?
  2. Are these issues different from your perspective as a customer of public transit?
  3. If you worked at the TTC as an HR practitioner and were selected to be tested for drug and alcohol use, how would you respond?



Monitoring Performance Matters

Curious corporate businesswoman skeptically meeting looking at small employee standing on table through magnifying glass isolated grey office wall background. Human face expression attitude perception

Through the course of our Human Resources studies, we have learned that effective performance appraisal systems for employees depend on continuous feedback and constant monitoring. Good performance management on the part of the employer includes a process of employee engagement and should not be viewed as a singular, one-time only performance appraisal event.

High quality performance management systems, therefore,  require a very high level of commitment and involvement on the part of the employer. This can be difficult to implement, especially in a large workforce where employees are spread across all levels of the physical work-space. Most employers simply do not have the time or the resources that allow for such intense day-to-day performance management methods.

This is where technology can step in to provide much needed support. Humanyze, a U.S. based technology provider, has developed wearable technology that tracks employee speech levels, tone of voice and body movements. While seemingly intrusive, if implemented properly these devices allow for immediate feedback to employees about their own behavioural patterns. This type of self-monitoring may have an impact on performance levels, without the need for constant intervention on the part of an individual manager.

Click here to read an article on wearable technology.

Click here to read how wearable technology is linked to monitoring employee performance.

As noted in the second article, these devices allow for data analysis based on patterns of employee behaviours. The data analysis can be used to promote constructive changes in the workplace that create opportunities for increased performance resulting in increased productivity and reduced levels of stress.

All of these have a direct impact on the organization’s bottom line and, as we know, the better the bottom-line – the better the rewards for the organization’s humans.

Discussion Questions:

  1. From a Human Resources perspective, what benefits do wearable technology bring to support constructive performance management practices?
  2. What are the negative implications of wearable technology in the workplace?
  3. Would you be comfortable wearing monitoring technology in your current workplace?