The Pearson Survey of the 50,000 Employees at the Toronto International Airport: A Document Expressing the Ideology of Employers

The following is based on the report Understanding the Pearson workforce: Canada’s first airport workforce survey: Summary report, October 2019. The survey consists of a sample of 3,582 employees at the Toronto Pearson airport from a variety of positions, with the statistical expectation that these employees would be representative of the 50,000 workers who work at the airport.

Of course, since this report was written before COVID, the situation has changed at the airport, but it is still useful to look at the report.

The background to the survey expresses its limitations since it was initiated by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority GTAA).

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Pearson Airport.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Pearson Airport.

The GTAA undertook a workforce survey—the first survey of its kind at any airport in Canada—to provide a baseline to understand more about the airport’s complex work environment, including who the workers are and how they get to their jobs. The information obtained from the survey will inform future work to identify gaps and support planning and programming to meet the airport’s transit and workforce needs. The survey was undertaken by Northstar Research Partners (Northstar) and developed in consultation with the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC), a collective
of union representatives from across the airport that work together to address issues that impact airport workers.

The report was written with the support of the Peel-Halton Workforce Development Group and Northstar.

The GTAA is itself an employer. According to its Facebook web page, “The Toronto Airport Workers Council is committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ.” According to the Toronto Pearson web page, “The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC) is the collective voice of Pearson’s 50,000 workers and its largest unions.”

Since the GTAA is an employer, its consultations, like consultations with union reps, expresses the power of employers to define issues and to express points of view that favour their interests–and not those of the working class. Given the power of the GTAA as a representative of employers as a whole at the Toronto Pearson Airport and its power as a particular employer, it is understandable that TAWC, in order to at least have some of its concerns recognized and perhaps addressed, decided to be a consultant  in the survey.

The report implicitly uses the standard of better paying, (unionized?), stable (permanent) and full-time positions as the basis for determining inadequacies in the employment situation of the workers at the airport. These better paying (unionized?), stable (permanent) and full-time positions are, apparently, the “good jobs” or “decent work” that social democrats refer to when they justify the goals that they pursue.

Consider, for example, the situation of workers at the airport who are part-time or who receive the minimum wage (as the report notes, these two categories of workers often overlap). The report states (page 4):

As noted above, there is an opportunity to identify and support career path development, in this case to less precarious jobs. Moreover, there appears to be some mitigation of the possible impacts of these aspects of employment precarity on these employees at Pearson.

Less precarious jobs (full-time/permanent), with better pay, thus constitute the standard of evaluation in the report.

I have criticized this standard in various posts. It is, of course, better to have a permanent position for most workers. Full-time work is also often preferable for workers than part-time work if they are going to meet their financial obligations and live some kind of enjoyable life outside of work. Receiving higher wages while working the same number of hours, obviously, is also preferable. However, nowhere in the report is their a hint of criticizing this standard.

This standard fails to criticize the fact that workers are Pearson International Airport are things to be used by

400-plus companies—public and private, large and small [pages 1 and 5].

(There are multiple page references to the same passage sometimes since the report includes the executive summary.)

There is not even a hint of the treatment of workers as things in the report (see The Money Circuit of Capital for a description of how workers are mere means to be used by employers, whether private or public.)  There is also not even a hint that the workers at Toronto Pearson are controlled and exploited (see the posts The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in CanadaManagement Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario    and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

The report in fact idealizes the working lives of 50,000 workers at Pearson. Apart from the issue of precarity, there is a lack of critical distancing from the class point of view of employers.

Thus, the report states (pages 1 and 5):

Employers include airport service providers, retail partners, airline and agency partners, to name a few, and all have a role in ensuring Pearson is a great place to work.

I fail to see how working for one or more of the 400+ employers at Pearson can ever result in Pearson being “a great place to work.” How can a workplace be a great place to work when the workers are used as a means to ends that they do not define? How can it be a great place to work when the workers are controlled, oppressed and exploited? The document is more ideology than anything else. Given that Air Canada workers are oppressed and exploited, it is undoubtedly also the case  that the other 400+ employers oppress and exploit their workers. How could it be a great place to work under such conditions?

Consider the workplace survey about workers’ attitudes towards working at Pearson. The report states (pages 2 and 23):

The majority of employees believe that Pearson provides not only a good job today, but also opportunity to grow and advance. This is especially true of younger employees who are early in their careers and see a path forward within the airport employment community.

Since the standard of evaluation for determining what constitutes a “good job” is one where work is permanent, full-time and better paying (unionized?), there is little wonder that “the majority of employees believe that Pearson provides … a good job today.”

Before becoming workers, working-class children in schools have been indoctrinated into believing that working for an employer is natural. Consider my posts concerning indoctrination of students in schools; the school history curriculum fails to provide opportunities for an historical understanding of the emergence of a class of employers and employees in Canada (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees ; this is one of several posts on the silencing of such an understanding in various Canadian provinces and territories). The lack of such an understanding is reflected in the silence concerning the power of employers to dictate to workers in various ways and to exploit them at Pearson International Airport.

Unions, in turn, have not even provided an opportunity for workers to question this dogma. Their reference to “fair contracts” and “decent work” reinforce such standards of evaluation. Is there any wonder that the majority of workers at Pearson use such low standards to determine whether their job is good or not?

Professor Tufts, a geographer professor at York University and spokesman for the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC), refers to the “data being in.” Yes, but there is no data that provides for an examination of the extent to which workers at Pearson Airport would consider that they have good jobs by working for an employer on a permanent and full-time basis with a wage somewhat higher than the minimum wage–if they also believed explicitly that they were being oppressed and exploited by the employers at Pearson Airport.

Professor Tufts has some interesting things to say about the purpose of this report. He says the following (Professor Tufts on the Pearson Airport Workforce Survey):

We want to know … how their careers are developing in the future, and how we can better help their careers develop at the airport and make Pearson a place where it’s not just a place to come to work to survive, but it’s a place where you come to build a career and thrive. And this survey is the first stop to getting something to talk about, to come together and talk about how we can better solutions.

Count on Pearson and Toronto Airport Workers’ Council to make the airport a great place to work.

I would not count on that. The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council may stimulate the improvement of working conditions at Pearson, but improved working conditions are hardly the same as “a great place to work.” Of course, workers should struggle to improve their own working conditions. However, Professor Tuft, like most union reps here in Toronto, assumes that it is really possible to create a good workplace environment on the basis of working for a particular employer in the context of the class power of employers so that the workplace is “a great place to work.” I deny that categorically.

Professor Tufts and the authors of the report assume that working for an employer and working at a great place are mutually compatible. As noted above, in referring to the money circuit of capital, workers are ultimately things to be used for the benefit of employers. They are also exploited. These facts limit improvements in working conditions–including workers’ control of their own working lives at work. These facts also means that workers necessarily lack control over a large area of their work at Pearson International Airport–a fact hidden behind the rhetoric of “a great place to work.”

These facts, on the other hand, are expressed in management rights’ clauses (explicitly in collective agreements if present but implicitly otherwise because arbitrators assume that management has dictatorial powers to direct the workforce, with the collective agreement only limiting such power). .

The report–and Professor Tufts’ commentary on it–express at best a social-democratic point of view, where it becomes possible to improve working conditions, but always within the limits of the power of employers as a class that use and exploit workers for their own benefit.

For the authors of the report and for Professor Tufts, improvement of working conditions, while leaving the power of employers generally intact, means the same thing as making Pearson “a great place to work.”

Now, TAWC may have thought that their participation in the consultation process may benefit the Pearson Airport workers’ interests. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, the attempt to improve workers’ conditions is to be praised. On the other hand, by not engaging in a critique of the report, TAWC simultaneously–although implicitly–justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of Pearson Airport workers.

Do not the workers at Toronto Pearson International Airport deserve more? Do they not deserve a critical analysis of the report? Does TAWC provide such a critical analysis to the workers?

What do you think?

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