Conflict, policy and clients: Weighing the balance

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carpenters featureI’m dealing with the type of situation that both defines and challenges our business. You probably have similar ethical and business priority challenges.

We are coping with a challenging controversy involving a relatively new quasi-judicial regulatory authority, the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT). Officially, the idea is to create a more professional self-regulatory environment for the skilled trades, giving them a degree of autonomy, self-governance and authority similar to traditional professions (such as lawyers, doctors, and teachers).

The OCOT has been a polarizing issue. Non-union employers detest the idea, believing it is a device to force union certification on their operations. More recently, the Labourers’ Union has decided the OCOT must go, in part because the union has discovered that other unions are using the OCOT’s job certification guidelines (and processes to require compulsory certification) as a job-jurisdicitonal grab.  Things are heating up as the Carpenters Union has started the process to request their trade be deemed a “compulsory” trade — requiring formal certification and qualifications (such as plumbers and electricians). This is especially troubling to the labourers, who sense a job-grab is on the way.

We recently produced an extensive advertising-supported supplement in co-operation with the Carpenters Union, and over time, have managed to maintain good relationships with all industry sectors, including unions, alternative labour organizations, government agencies, contractors and industry associations reflecting the different perspectives.  I handle this by adhering as closely as possible to objective and fair journalistic standards. Anyone can request an advertising feature; the news section will always be as balanced as possible.

The Carpenters Union started the compulsory certification process as we worked on their special feature/report. The union has been an honourable client. Now, however, I need to tackle a story with more than enough twists and turns, including some of the most opaque pubic policy stuff I’ve seen in years. I don’t want to offend a good client, but equally cannot ignore the controversy.

I expect that most of us encounter these conflicts in our businesses; if we didn’t we would not be doing meaningful work. One one level, the answer to the question is easy: Write the story, as it is, with fairness and balance. On the other hand, it isn’t simple — because fairness and balance can be defined differently, depending on your perspective. I wish I had a better answer.

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