Recently a report was published about the work environment in the Vancouver School Board. You can read about that in this CBC article. The report was prepared for WorkSafeBC (the workers compensation board’s current incarnation)
Last fall the VSB trustees were fired by the provincial government for various other reasons. There was talk that the work environment in the office had become toxic with Board Trustees being bullying and abusive towards staff.
The report just published lays this out and confirms these allegations.
In yesterday’s newspaper an article appeared that says a number of Unions have come together to issue a statement denying the report. At least one of these unions is CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees. That’s the union I’m in with my job. All of us who work in the office there are CUPE members. I’m assuming that the staff in the VSB offices were also Union members. Likely CUPE members.
So why would all these unions come out on what would appear to be a Management side?
Well it turns out that Unions had representation on the Board of Trustees. So along with the elected Trustees there were Union members sitting at the same table.
And the report apparently said that these Union members of these committees were just as culpable in the bullying as others. The Unions say no they weren’t. They say the process was faulty and likely politically motivated.
I’m curious what the staff members in the VSB office would say. I’m assuming that one aspect of preparing the report was to interview them so I’m guessing that they told the outside consultant of anecdotes which entailed abuse and bullying.
This wouldn’t be the first time a Union has been accused of not being able to properly manage its office workers. At some point in the late 1990s workers at a union office in the Vancouver area threatened strike if memory serves me. I’d imagine stories like that come out in other places where Unions have offices large enough to have paid staff.
So how does this happen?
A short while ago I ran into a study which showed that simply putting on a police uniform changes your attitude towards specific groups. In the study they found that just putting on a uniform caused participants to exhibit a bias again a visually identifiable sub-group. What was a bit unexpected was that sub-group. Many assumed it would be people of colour but it turned out to be people in hoodies.
People in hoodies have become synonymous with poor, angry, disenfranchised people that tend to hold violent protests in groups. Or engage in illegal activities as individuals. It’s not that putting on a hoody turns you into a criminal, it’s the media reporting and presentation of these groups and individuals fitting into them that has resulted in this perception.
So that gets reflected in the unconscious behaviour exhibited by those in the study who put on the uniform of the police.
How does this relate to the story at the start?
Well if your employment background is steeped in the culture of Management vs Labour and White Hats vs Blue Hats then you see those seats at the committee table in one way: Those are managers sitting there. Even if your background is labour, when you take that seat it’s like putting on that uniform: you have a role to play, and it’s not a labour role.
So when the staff (workers) tell you (manager) that your ideas and requests cannot be dealt with because they are incorrect there might be a tendency to see them (workers) as not following (management) commands. Any repetition of this could be seen, and felt, as obstructionism. And from the staff’s perspective a boss is a boss is a boss . . .
So playing the roles on a totally subconscious level you get union-managers treating union-workers the way that managers treat workers. And workers responding the way that workers respond to managers.
I would submit that it would be really difficult for people on either side of that transaction, in that environment, to behave any other way. They are only human after all.
It’s too bad we either refuse to recognize that or own up to it.