HAYLEYWATSON Multimedia Journalist - Communications
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HAYLEYWATSON This article is proof you always have to keep your eyes open because you never know when you can find something great. I met Yali and her family exactly where they are pictured while I was on my way to a music festival at Fort York. As soon as they told me what they were doing, I knew this was a perfect story to bring to The Grid.
A secret garden hiding in plain sight Published August 29, 2013 The Grid, Toronto ______________________________ Beneath the Gardiner Expressway is probably the last place you would expect to find a bounty of delicious herbs. But that’s where the Gao family discovered a plant that they’d been picking for years in their native China: broom-grass.
Darwin would most certainly approve.
Zhengqi and Huipin Gao recently immigrated to Canada to live with their daughter, Yali, a research scientist at a nano-biotechnology company. They hadn’t seen any broom-grass in Toronto when they arrived here earlier in the year—likely a result of the manicuring of most Toronto parks. But then Yali’s mom spotted it growing on a large tract of land under the Gardiner, right next to Fort York. The Gaos have a theory on how this useful plant ended up underneath one of the city’s main traffic arteries: “It might be they have transported the soil from somewhere else just for the construction, and it contained the seeds,” says Yali, translating for Zhengqi and Huipin.
From the highway to the table.
Zhengqi and Huipin normally steam their broom-grass, and then use it as a filling for Chinese steamed buns with pork and soy sauce. Yali says that the versatile plant can basically be cooked any way you can think of. “It doesn’t have a strong flavour,” she says, comparing it to baby spinach. “It’s sweet in a very plain way.” Broom-grass, which was originally harvested by the poor in China as a cheap source of nutrition, has become a specialty food there. It’s particularly useful for people who need to introduce more roughage into their diet.
More than just food.
Broom-grass isn’t just a great-tasting steamed-bun stuffing, either. As the name suggests, the plant can actually be used as a broom. In the fall, when the plant has grown to about four feet tall and is no longer edible, the grass can be harvested a second time, then pruned into a fan shape, dried, and mounted on a bamboo pole.
Picking herbs and grasses in an urban setting is second nature to the Gaos, who did it for years in China. In addition to broom-grass, they also pick wild dandelions, a plant known for its medicinal benefits. Yali laughs at paying top dollar at health-food stores for some of the herbs her family picks for free. “Lots of people from China who are my parents’ age would know [where to find them],” she says. “It’s very common to pick wild grasses.”
We were the first media outlet in Canada to break the news that Chris Hadfield had joined the faculty of University of Waterloo, thanks to a tip I recieved from a community member. On the day we put the story online, it had over 700 page views.
Hadfield lands at U of Waterloo Published October 8, 2013 The Cord, Waterloo ______________________________ Famed Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield gets to add a new line to his already extensive resume this fall: professor. University of Waterloo (U of W) confirmed today that Hadfield has joined the faculty as an adjunct professor of aviation, cross-appointed to the faculties of environment, science and applied health sciences, through August 2016. “This is an amazing opportunity for students to have access to his career experience and knowledge,” said Ian McKenzie, director of aviation programs at U of W. “He has tremendous enthusiasm for engaging students in learning.” Commander Hadfield has become an international celebrity after tweets and videos taken during his five month long stint on the International Space Station (ISS) went viral. Since returning to Earth he has embarked on several educational tours and has a book, An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth, coming out this fall. The deal to bring U of W alumni Hadfield to the aviation department took shape after
Hadfield announced his retirement from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) earlier this year. McKenzie explained that Hadfield’s long standing relationship with the university and the surrounding community were driving forces in bringing him to the school. “He was actually here in 1982 as a NSERC post-graduate in mechanical engineering,” McKenzie said. Hadfield was also married in Waterloo and his first son was born here in 1983. Over the years he has given several lectures on campus, including a downlink from the ISS in February of this year. Because of his current schedule, U of W officials expect that Hadfield will only have limited time on campus until the fall 2014 semester. Once here, his role will be a mix of research, advising and teaching within the university’s Bachelor of Environmental Studies and Bachelor of Science programs in aviation. Aviation students at the university also take practical flight lessons at the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre as part of their degree requirements. “[He] has flown over 70 aircrafts,” said McKenzie. “With Chris’s practical experience with flight and as a pilot this will be a great asset for our students.” Prior to joining the CSA, Hadfield was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and test piloted several experimental aircraft in both Canada and the US. Hadfield is next expected to be on campus for a public lecture on December 3.
Covering the Youth Un(der) Employment Forum in Toronto is part of my ongoing coverage of labour issues for rabble.ca. Because of how big an issue youth employment is right now, I’ve covered the topic extensively. This is just one of several pieces I’ve worked on for various outlets.
Jobless but not broken: Youth workers gather to talk unemployment Published October 3, 2013 rabble.ca, Toronto ______________________________
chance of obtaining entry-level employment after graduation. “When I graduated from university in 1978 there were lots of entry level jobs to be had,” said Maria LeRose, the co-director of Generation Jobless, a CBC documentary that examined the growing rates of unemployment among youth in Canada. LeRose and her co-director Sharon Bartlett explained at the forum that they knew they had hit a nerve as they made their film. This was a story young people were passionate about because it was directly affecting them — a lot of them.
“Who here has worked two or more jobs at the same time?” asked Roxanne Dubois, a staff member at Unifor and former Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) chair, to over 30 people, most under 30 years old, in a conference room at Ryerson University.
Youth unemployment is not a problem that strikes fairly. Racialized young people and people with disabilities face higher unemployment rates then other youth. “We have to do a better job,” said Luam Kidane, the youth programming coordinator at FoodShare Toronto, speaking on a panel about solutions. “We can’t ignore racialized youth if we’re going to fix youth unemployment.”
Almost every single person raised his or her hand. “And who here is in an union?” Significantly fewer people raised their hand. “And who works evenings and weekend?” she asked finally. Again, almost every hand went up. She, nor anyone else attending the Youth Un(der)employment Forum — a day long event to discuss youth unemployment — seemed surprised by the result.
For all the stories about the struggles youth are facing finding employment, there was also stories being told about those who were challenging the status quo and looking for solutions.
DuBois’s quick poll represents a microcosm of the situation young workers across Canada are facing. A recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report found that Ontario’s unemployment levels are twice as high as the overall provincial youth unemployment rate. Canada wide, youth still face challenges even where the unemployment rate is lower. Full time, entry-level work has become difficult to find, so when young people work — if at all — they cobble together resumes with a mix of part-time and casual employment, internships, advanced degrees and volunteer hours. It was exactly this issue that the organizers behind the Youth Un(der)employment Forum were hoping to not only address, but start finding solutions too.
Rosemarie Powell is the founder and CEO of Big on Green, an environmental consulting agency that is also a workers co-operative, based in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto. While doing community work she began to notice that there were young people and recent immigrants who had environmental skills, like environmental planning, but couldn’t find jobs. “[We thought] ‘how would we put our skills and resources together to create something meaningful for us?’” she said. So they created a co-op that would employ locals as consultants to businesses that want to go green. “We thought we would be eco-entrepreneurs,” she laughed. So far, Big on Green has worked with organizations in the Jane and Finch and Rexdale neighbourhoods and at a downtown Toronto law firm.
“What we really wanted to do was push the conversation a step forward and start thinking about solutions,” said Brynne Sinclair-Waters, a researcher at the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), one of the organizations behind Friday’s forum. The event was a chance for young people to share some of their own challenges finding work and start a dialogue about how to approach these problems.
Traditional union organizing efforts have also yielded positive results. C.J. Hanlon, a member of Unifor local 1075 in Thunder Bay, told the forum that collective bargaining efforts with Bombardier in Thunder Bay resulted in many jobs for young people. The Bombardier facility is now building the fleet of light rail vehicles that will soon appear on Toronto streets. And at University of Toronto, the students union has made challenging the current laws around internships a top priority.
The stories told by some of the youth were sobering yet all too familiar to anyone under the age of thirty who’s ever looked for a job. Victor Rodriguez, who spoke at the forum, works four different jobs and goes to school. He often finds himself waiting by the phone waiting to find out if there’s a shift available for him. In an ironic twist — one he acknowledges himself — his chosen specialty is working with unemployed and at risk youths.
A common theme amongst participants was the need for larger, systemic change. In the course of making their documentary, Bartlett and LeRose traveled to Switzerland, a country that has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the OECD countries thanks in part to a national education program that streams students into apprenticeships — there are over 200 options — after junior high.
“It was a bit of culture shock for me because there is always something in the media saying there is such a need in this area,” he said. “When you go out there and find something to do people will tell you ‘sorry we don’t have anything for you.’”
It became clear making the film that there was a need for a bigger picture approach to both education and youth employment. “There is no question,” said LeRose. “The number one thing we heard is that we need a national strategy.”
Melissa Larue considers herself lucky to have found steady, unionized employment when she was studying for her Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Windsor. But while trying to find permanent full-time work as a social worker, she has found herself working casual and part-time to gain the experience to be able to make the jump to full time.
New federal legislation to be introduced in Parliament this fall may address some of these concerns. Andrew Cash, Member of Parliament for Davenport, explained that his proposed National Urban Workers Strategy would extend unemployment benefits and employment insurance to more workers among other measures.
She believes it is more important than ever to reach out to students and make them aware ahead of time of what the job market is like and that a university education may not be enough to make it today. “I think people should be going to school,” she said. “But the narrative that it is the be all end all needs to stop.” It was once the case that a university student could leave school and have a reasonable
“It’s a framework bill,” he explained. “It sort of lays the foundation for how we can move forward on this issue.” What many people may have gotten out of the Youth Un(der)employment Forum was a sense of togetherness. “A lot of us out there that don’t have full time work and sometimes people interpret that as something they are doing wrong,” said Rodriguez. “The biggest goal here is just to really inform the youth that they are not alone.”
HAYLEYWATSON This feature won the John H. McDonald Award for Labour writing, presented by the Canadian University Press in January 2014.
Getting exposure or getting exploited? Published March 6, 2013 The Cord, Waterloo ______________________________ In a crowded conference room in a downtown Toronto hotel, the atmosphere is tense. It’s the 75th annual Canadian University Press Conference and it is filled with eager young student journalists, all of whom are intently listening to a panel speak on a rather touchy topic: internships. The panel is filled with esteemed members of the journalistic and legal communities, including employment lawyer Andrew Langille, Edward Keenan, a Senior Editor at The Grid and Shameless Magazine founder Nicole Cohen. But it’s the one intern on the panel — Chris Berube, who interned with Radio Lab in New York City — who hits it home. “In the end,” he laughed, “someone is getting fucked.” Generation Y — or Generation Meh depending on whom you’re asking — is a generation faced with increasingly grim career prospects. A recent New York Times article claimed that one employer was looking for “22-22-22”; a 22-year-old who would work 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year. For some, even the hint of payment is better than nothing while looking at posting after posting for interns who will work for free, or next to free. Articles appear almost weekly trying to sort out why “Millenials” can’t make money, have to move back in with their parents, are too lazy to do good work and work too much for free. As a generation, we’re just full of contradictory problems. Unpaid internships have become the flashpoint of much of this discussion. It’s now the norm that a recent university or college graduate will spend a few months working in their chosen field for free in the hopes of building the connections and portfolio that will lead to gainful employment. The new normal Interning is actually the new normal. 100 years ago, interns were limited to the medical field, filling the roll that is today better known as residents. Agata Zieba, a graduate of the masters program of communications at Wilfrid Laurier, traced the rise of internships over the last 50 years as part of her final thesis research. It wasn’t until the 1980s that internships saw a boom, primarily in media. “For individuals … what I think is that being able to say ‘I worked at a magazine,’ people think you’re cool,” she said. “You’re proud to say you’re working at a magazine even though you’re working there for free or for very little pay.” The social cachet of working at Vogue, for instance, is worth taking a drop in income. The Ministry of Labour does not track internships numbers. Complicating the matter is that fact that often people will do multiple internships at once, which means the same person may account for several positions. “Up to seven or eight [internships for one person] is not unheard of,” Langille said, a few months prior to speaking before the Canadian University Press Conference. Langille, in addition to his employment law practice, is writing his masters thesis on the legal regulation of internships. He blogs about the issue at youthandwork.ca. Langille estimates that 100,000 internships can be found in Toronto alone, and between 300,000 and 100,000 in Canada. “Where you could get up to a 1,000 or 1,500 unpaid internships a year [at a single employer], it’s pretty easy to get there.” This certainly contradicts the popular myth that Generation Y is lazy or isn’t working. Generation Y is working a lot; they’re just not getting paid for it. But before you can even determine how many interns there are, you have to ask: What is an intern? “The word intern or internship doesn’t have any legal meaning,” said Claire Seaborn, one of the founders of the Canadian Intern Association, an organization created to advocate for interns’ rights. It’s hard sometimes to pin down exactly what an intern is or does.
At best we can describe interns as existing in the nebulous space between paid employee and volunteer. Yet because they’ve become so common, Seaborn said we assume there is a set definition. People associate interns with tasks ranging from the mundane – fetching coffee, making copies – to tasks that would normally be filled by entry-level employees. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act does provide some protection for interns. If you’re doing work that provides a benefit for your employer — such as increased profits — or replacing the position of a paid employee, under the Act you have to be paid for your work. But both Langille and Seaborn point out that many unpaid interns are in fact doing work that they should be paid for under the law. “If they just had fewer unpaid internships and redirected resources to more paid positions, or at least contract positions … young people can at least make an income,” said Seaborn. Langille noted that part of the problem is that the criteria found in the Employment Standards Act puts the responsibility on the intern to prove that the company is in breach. So if you’re a lowly 23-year-old intern who wants to start a claim against a major telecommunications company, it falls on your shoulders to prove they are in the wrong. Aside from the costs associated with bringing a claim against a company or suing them, interns will avoid it simply to save face. People don’t become interns for the financial security; they do it with the hopes of meeting that magic person who will give them the break they need to get into the industry. “They want a reference letter,” said Greig de Peuter, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier who studies precarious work in culture industries (he also supervised Zieba’s thesis research). “The carrot is moving into full-time work.” The fear of being branded “difficult to work with” or a whistleblower has led to reluctance on the part of interns to speak out. “I found it intriguing that even the interns I spoke with found internships exploitative that they still were willing to work at them,” said Zieba. Quitting isn’t an option when your reputation is on the line. Profile over profit You can’t have unpaid internships without having people who are willing to work for nothing. Luckily, for many industries, those who are willing to sacrifice pay for exposure are numerous. In particular creative industries – journalism, arts, fashion, public relations – see higher rates of unpaid internships than those who take internships in, for example, science and technology. “They [interns] might think it’s a glamourous task when it may not necessarily be one,” said Zieba. She points to shows like The Hills as examples of media making life as an intern seem much more comfortable and fun than the reality. Lauren Conrad, star of The Hills, actually appeared on the cover of the very magazine she was interning for, Teen Vogue — not a likely scenario for most people who are planning on taking unpaid internships. Of course not all interns want to be reality TV stars. Some are passionate about the work and want a job that’s rewarding. “There’s a promise of opportunity of expressing yourself,” said de Peuter, referring to those who pursue freelance careers. This promise is attractive to a certain demographic of young adults. It’s certainly why this very article appears in the newspaper you are now reading. It’s produced, almost entirely, by dedicated volunteers who do it for lots of their own personal reasons. The same applies in many ways to internships. But when it comes to this precarious employment, critics contend that employers have created a zero sum game where people are willing to work for nothing without any guarantees that the connections they need will come through at the right time. The only people who win are the companies that profit off the interns’ work. It’s not a game that everyone can afford to play either. Zieba contends that internships represent a new glass ceiling — you don’t get to pass unless you can afford to work
for free. For those who leave school with significant debt, that means their options are limited. “Young people are thought of as not having pressing financial obligations,” said de Peuter. This is particularly ironic given that many of these jobs — particularly journalism — were once very real career options for the working class, deemed unworthy by the elite. Fans of Downton Abbey will remember how horrified the aristocratic Grantham family was when middle daughter Edith considered writing a weekly column for a London newspaper. These days, she’d probably be honoured to be picked for unpaid editorial internship at a magazine. At the Canadian University Press Conference, Keenan — who ran the internship program at Eye Weekly before it was transformed into The Grid — notes that to intern at Eye, he had to borrow $3,000 to survive. Berube lived at home and considered taking a job as a gravedigger as the hours wouldn’t impact on his internship. “Ultimately,” said Keenan. “It will depend on your situation.” Sarah Murphy is another former intern who was lucky to have support. Now a masters of journalism student at Ryerson, she is emphatic in how much she loved interning at Exclaim!, a monthly Canadian music magazine that she still freelances for. “I was living at home,” she said. “That was a huge relief that I know a lot of people don’t have the luxury of having.” She also worked two part-time jobs during the latter part of her back to back internships. Murphy — like Keenan and Berube – didn’t regret doing the internships because in her case the work did lead to opportunity. For women, avoiding unpaid internships is much harder. “I think unpaid internships have a disproportionate affect on young females,” said Langille. Science and tech companies — two traditionally male dominated fields — offer many more paid internships compared to those in creative industries. “There’s an equality angle in terms of who’s going to school and in terms of which programs predominantly have paid internships,” Langille added. Studies in the U.S. have found that people who completed paid internships are much more likely to find a job whereas those who complete unpaid internships don’t fare any better than those who didn’t bother to do one at all. Given the gender inequality that exists between majors, it means that more males are successful at finding gainful employment post-university or college. But the times are changing. Remember when your mom encouraged you to go get that law degree so you could finally make a steady income? Apparently a lot of other people’s mom’s had the same thought. Law school numbers are increasing and articling positions — a requirement to practice in Ontario — aren’t rising to meet the new numbers. This change led the Law Society of Upper Canada to institute new rules last year that allowed would-be lawyers to pass the bar if they completed additional courses and an unpaid term working at a law office or legal clinic. It’s not quite the same as an unpaid internship at a fashion magazine, but it is another example of the precarious work situation Gen. Y is facing as a whole. “Ultimately, entry level jobs are being jeopardized because interns are being hired for that position,” says Zieba. A decent paying job that’s attainable to recent graduates seems to be going extinct. Interns unite Diana Wang was just one of the thousands of interns behind the scenes at a fashion magazine until she became the story. Wang launched a class action lawsuit against the Hearst Corporation, the owner of Harpers Bazaar where she worked. 3,000 other Hearst interns joined her. Wang’s action is just one prong of resistance against this precarious form of labour. “We’re seeing the politicization of young people,” says de Peuter, using the recent examples of Occupy and Idle No More as mass mobilizations of a younger generation. Following these protests, there’s been a wave of organizations focusing on improving economic conditions for the “Millenials” including the Carrotworkers Collective in
England and the Geneva Interns Association, a group focused on improving working conditions for the army of interns who staff the United Nations General Secretariat. While many Canadian interns still prefer the cloak of anonymity to preserve their reputations, they’re able to find support with organizations like the Canadian Intern Association. Seaborn, herself a law student at the University of Ottawa, started CIA because she had heard one too many stories from her friends about the exploitative internships they experienced. The organization is still growing — Seaborn hopes to create a guide for interns about their legal rights and start filling the gaps in what we know. For her, the issue of interns’ rights comes down in part to a responsibility on the part of the employer to ensure fair working conditions. “[Unpaid internships] shouldn’t be culturally acceptable which is why we want to raise awareness about this issue,” she said. “It’s a corporate social responsibility issue.” Langille believes that the tools we need to protect interns already exist; right in the Employment Standards Act. “The problem is enforcement,” he said. “Essentially the model that we have in Ontario currently is a reactive enforcement model so someone has to call up and complain about the employer and then there might be an investigation.” Kyle Iannuzzi is one of the few interns known to have successfully made a Employment Standards claim. While interning for an event planner, he found himself with increasingly important duties. When he finally approached his employer and asked for either the terms of his internship to be changed or compensation for his work, the relationship soured. Iannuzzi filed his claim and was successful; he received all the pay he was owed at the minimum wage rate. “I think I burnt a bridge,” said Iannuzzi. “But to be honest … these industries are big enough, especially in Toronto, that you want to align yourself with the people you work well with.” Fighting for his rights under the Employment Standards Act was worth any fallout he might encounter down the road. However, Iannuzzi does know that there are people who aren’t able, because of money or other reasons, to make claims against illegal internships. “I think that there’s a lot of people in a very vulnerable state.” Change won’t happen tomorrow however. Murphy recommends that those who are still willing to do an unpaid internship ask lots of questions to ensure they’re actually going to get what they want our of the experience. “Don’t expect to get a full time job out of it,” she said. “You’re going to have to work to build your connections. That’s the harsh reality of the industry.” The internship debate boils down to one important issue for Langille. “Essentially, it comes down to the point that labour should be paid for,” he said. “That is something that has been forgotten.”