Employment Governance Race and ethnicity

How the labour movement continues to fail minorities in Canada

Given reader interest in last year’s labour day post, here’s a follow-up. As touched on then, historically, Canadian labour unions have had issues representing racial minorities in Canada. In what was meant to appear as an effort to address this shortcoming and get with demographic reality, over the last couple of years several Canadian labour organisations elected racial minority members as either presidents or executive council members.

Last year’s post highlighted a 2010-2011 survey conducted on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The reported results indicated only 15 of 52 CLC affiliates even bothered responding to the employment equity survey, with just 2 respondents indicating they’d implemented a program to assess racial diversity. But that was before all the newly elected minority labour execs took office. So how have things progressed since then?

Accountability Employment Governance Race and ethnicity

Why misleading, misinformed screeds calling for the elimination of race-based stats ought to be retired: In the (former) chief statistician’s words

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to a post earlier this month that promised to provide historical context.

Chief statistician: Why the census is counting visible minorities
It is in everyone’s interest that debate on issues related to employment equity ‘be supported by objective … data rather than by impressions, unfounded opinion or stereotypes.’
Ivan P. Fellegi

The Globe and Mail
Friday, April 26, 1996

This is the text of a letter sent this week to a number of Canadian newspapers by Ivan Fellegi, chief statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada, in response to criticisms of Question 19 in the 1996 census. (One critic, Reform MP Mike Scott of the B.C. riding of Skeena, had suggested that Canadians identify themselves as Martians to “send a signal to the federal government that Canadians have had enough of this garbage.”)

Employment Immigration Media Population Race and ethnicity

Why misleading, misinformed screeds calling for the elimination of race-based stats ought to be retired

Chart 1 Share of Canadian population reporting ‘Canadian’ ethnic origin vs share reporting* ‘visible minority’ status, by census year
Chart 1 Share of Canadian population reporting 'Canadian' ethnic origin vs share reporting 'visible minority' status, by census year

Source(s): Census of population public-use microdata files (PUMFs), Statistics Canada

The recent Canadian Economics Association (CEA) conference has been criticised for its lack of diversity, as have its precedents. It wasn’t clear at first why one particular economist was singled out for criticism. Apparently it had to do with an article  this economist, an older white female, wrote a couple years ago calling for the elimination of “visible minority” status from employment equity and, along with it, the race question altogether from the Canadian census. She argued race is an arbitrary, antiquated and irrelevant concept. That her screed was poorly written and argued is understandable, albeit unfortunate, given it’s not her area of expertise (‘feminomics’). That the same economist is supposedly set to chair the 2017 CEA conference is a legitimate concern.

Accountability Employment Race and ethnicity

How the labour movement continues to fail minorities in Canada… and how minorities respond

Employment Financial security Governance Immigration Justice Race and ethnicity

Why Canada avoids asking about race, and why that’s a problem

Making waves in his first speech after taking office in 2009, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder then described his country as a “nation of cowards” afraid to confront racial issues. While the US had made remarkable progress on civil rights in the latter half of the twentieth century, election of a biracial president aside, there’s evidence to suggest it has recently regressed. There are anecdotes, like recent incidents in Detroit, Michigan and Ferguson, Missouri. But there are also race-based statistics collected, compiled and published by various US government agencies, from Justice to Labor to even the Federal Reserve.

If fear of confronting race is cowardice, what does one call fear of even asking about it? Because that’s where Canada is at the moment.

Employment Immigration Race and ethnicity

August 2014 LFS: An alternative view. More on the R word and unions, illustrated

Chart 1 Unemployment by visible minority status and place of birth

Source: Census of Population, 2006 [Canada] Public Use Microdata File, Individual File: Canada. 2.7% sample, Statistics Canada

We’ll get to the chart in a sec. The August 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) release this morning reported a 97,800 actual (payroll) job loss, and a corresponding 86,900 (obviously questionable) self-employment jump. We can’t think of anything more to add, so self-employment blah, blah, blah, blah.

Union ‘research’ underscores diversity problem

A couple days ago, we followed up on an interesting critique of the labour movement’s glaring diversity deficit. Apparently the critique may have been written in response to an episode that saw mostly white union supporters (mis)appropriating a comment by Martin Luther King, Jr. against ‘right to work’ laws.

That MLK comment was made at a time when the US labour movement held great promise for and common cause with the civil rights movement; it was the same year Cesar Chavez set off to organize California’s (and eventually the nation’s) poor, mostly minority farm labourers.

MLK likely didn’t envision half a century on that a wholly unqualified ‘research associate’ (RA) with a predominantly white, supposedly progressive, pro-union think tank condescendingly dismissing a black woman’s concern over Canadian Labour’s apparent lack of diversity as “overly simplistic and lacking nuance”…

… then proceeding to immediately validate her concern by blurting out “immigrants have higher union density rates than white Cdns”. Because clearly, as the recycled chart illustrates, all Canadian immigrants participating in the labour force are non-white – give or take 43%.

RA then went on to cite a 2000 research draft, to presumably enlighten his misguided critic — a paper he clearly didn’t read himself.

Nor is it likely he made it past the first sentence of the critique he found “overly simplistic and lacking nuance”. The short piece contains no less than 17 references to “(visible / racial) minorities”. Its references to immigrants are likewise to minority immigrants… however, seeing as RA is oblivious to the existence of non-minority immigrants, that ‘nuance’ was lost on him.

It’s also worth noting the critique RA callously dismissed actually references (with a corresponding link) the final (2004) version of the draft paper he’d shared – it’s even highlighted in a text box.  So effectively, he didn’t read that paper twice over. Otherwise he’d have realised the research he’d cited was also critical of labour’s lack of diversity.

It’s all a bit much, even for a hack playing twitter-conomist. But this is someone entrusted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to help its readers get Behind the Numbers. To be blunt, any org that puts such an individual, even on a volunteer basis, in such a position has credibility issues. We’ll just leave it at that.

Aside: It’s worth mentioning the referenced paper(s) use data on race/ethnicity from a voluntary, relatively small sample survey (SLID); the authors make clear their results are far from reliable and suggest unions consider collecting their own data. As noted, they don’t.

So as not to just criticise, a couple of points:

As touched on previously, Europe has a much longer history with organised labour, and large European employers such as Volkswagen prefer the administrative convenience of ‘works councils’.

Canada’s white, mostly European immigrants have a significantly higher rate of union coverage than the Canadian-born, balancing out the significantly lower union coverage rate among racial minority, mostly Asian and African immigrants.

The balance of immigration has significantly tipped to non-European source countries over the last 30 years. Meaning most of the white, European immigrants who are still active in the labour force will tend to be older, age 55-65, if not 65+.

The preceding post notes older Canadian workers are doing far better both in terms of employment and union coverage, even in decimated industries like Manufacturing. It’s pretty easy to put two and two together from there.

A labour movement that doesn’t represent the young, racial minorities and recent immigrants is one without a future. It’ll take more to turn its fortunes around than throwing up pictures of young, racial minorities or making empty promises to young workers.  Unfortunately, as our ‘progressive’ RA helped illustrate, the movement’s prospects are pretty dim.

Employment Immigration Race and ethnicity Trade and investment Women Youth

How the labour movement has failed minorities in Canada

How the labour movement has failed
Rachel Decoste, Huffington Post Canada September 2, 2014

Kudos to Rachel for her thoughtful and informative critique of the Canadian labour movement’s historical under-representation of racial minorities. It’s actually more cleverly written than it first appears (and it’s pretty clever as-is); the embedded web links make some interesting implicit connections.

Employment Immigration Race and ethnicity

Where is the ‘Union Advantage’ for Canadian immigrants, racial minorities?

These numbers will blow your mind and make you want to join a union
PressProgress (Broadbent Institute) August 18, 2014

A reader flagged this recent PressProgress post. It references data presumably from a recent Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) ‘report’, which the post is intended to promote. The data was obviously sourced from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS), which collects basic info on respondents’ immigration status, but not race / ethnicity. While the post mentions hourly wage differences for total and recent immigrants covered by collective agreements (but not necessarily union members), it doesn’t mention their respective coverage rates – although it does so for young workers (15%). Perhaps it was an oversight,..

Aboriginal - First Nations Accountability Civil liberties Justice Race and ethnicity

The sorry state of Canadian civil liberties: Hate crime up, race primary motive


Hate crimes in Canada: Most violent against gays, black people most targeted racial group
Craig Takeuchi, June 27, 2014

The referenced StatsCan release. As the article notes, the majority of all police-reported hate crimes (704 incidents, or 52 percent) were racially or ethnically motivated. Yet, remarkably, the few stories published focused on sexual orientation, a far less frequent motive (185 incidents, or 13%), albeit one involving greater incidence of violence.

Aboriginal - First Nations Accountability Civil liberties Justice Race and ethnicity

The sorry state of Canadian civil liberties: Defining away ‘diversity’


Photo above appears to be from The Canadian Press (original source unknown). The white rubber wristband federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay appears to wear is interesting. It’s popularly associated with the Make Poverty History campaign. Among the issues discussed by the Canadian MPH campaign is homeless veterans – interesting, given the accompanying Support Our Troops lapel pin.

Cynical symbology is a useful segue to the latest scandal Mr. MacKay finds himself facing, over a Mother’s Day greeting / supposedly sexist quip about female judges. Its absurdity was recently highlighted by an exchange of open letters between a columnist and his wife.

What the beleaguered Justice Minister wrote or said is secondary to his (can’t stress this point often enough) as well as previous Canadian governments’ policy decisions and resulting outcomes. And those outcomes are far worse for racial / ethno-cultural minorities than for women. Which begs the question(s): When/why/how did ‘diversity’ in judicial appointments become exclusively associated with female nominees, especially when the imbalance is many times greater for racial and other actual minority groups?