For close to 50 years, UBC Sauder professor emeritus Mark Thompson has been using his academic expertise in Labour Relations to help some of the most vulnerable categories of Canadians in the workforce – and now his work has been recognized by the Governor-General of Canada.
Earlier this summer Thompson was awarded the Order of Canada, one of the highest honours bestowed upon Canadians for their outstanding achievements, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
“Being appointed to the Order of Canada is an immense honour and is a wonderful tribute to the field of industrial relations,” explains Thompson, who retired from UBC Sauder in 2002. “I often tell my students that although industrial relations is a relatively small field of study in Canada, it provides many transferrable skills that can not only benefit workers in need, but are also useful in other areas of management.”
“Mark truly epitomizes the Order of Canada’s motto: Desiderantes Melirem Patriam, or Desiring a Better Country,” explains UBC Sauder’s Dean, Robert Helsley. “Over the course of his career, his efforts have been motivated by a profound moral desire to improve the lives of working men and women across Canada.”
Thompson received his undergraduate degree in Economics (cum laude) in 1961 from the University of Notre Dame and Ph.D. (1966) in from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations. He joined the UBC Sauder School of Business as an Assistant Professor in 1971 after spending time in the American military, and at the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland. He became a full professor at UBC Sauder in 1985.
Among some of the awards Thompson has received include the Canadian Industrial Relations Association’s Gérard Dion Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Industrial Relations discipline; an honourary doctorate of Social Sciences from Laval University; and the Isaac Walton Killam Award for Teaching Excellence at the University of British Columbia.
Throughout his career, Thompson has worked to bolster employment standards and farm safety in Canada through his teachings, consulting work, academic research and writings. Since 1970 he has written over 80 articles, book chapters, papers in edited proceedings and edited books on various aspects of industrial relations, collective bargaining, and occupational health and safety.
Until his recent retirement, Thompson was also an active arbitrator, and was the second B.C. arbitrator to be admitted to the National Academy of Arbitrators in 1982. During his career, Thompson arbitrated more than 200 cases, and was chosen by management and labour or appointed by government agencies. He often brought his experiences into the classroom, sharing with students his first-hand experience arbitrating labour-management disputes.
One of Thompson’s most significant career achievements was his lead role in revising the B.C. Employment Standards Act in 1993, which dramatically strengthened employment protections for the most vulnerable groups in the workforce. He was also a neutral governor of the Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C. between 1992 and 1996.
“Labour and employment regulations in Canada are often held up as an example for other countries as fair and balanced, and Mark has played an influential role to enshrine that reputation,” Dean Helsley says.
However, perhaps Thompson’s greatest accomplishment is the impact he has had on his students at UBC Sauder. He is widely recognized within the Faculty as someone who encourages his students – many of whom are not naturally inclined to support labour unions – to view complex negotiations between labour and management as multi-faceted and important. Countless students have benefited from his frontline access to business interests, politicians and the labour movement, and are now making their own contributions to the field of industrial relations, the law and the labour movement.
One such student is Sandra Robinson, a professor in UBC Sauder’s Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources division.
“Mark is the quintessential professor, mentor and colleague,” Robinson explains. “He is a man of interesting stories, great humor and much wisdom borne from years of experience. He can always be trusted to give you sound advice and expert opinion, whilst also often leaving you feeling positive.”
Dean Helsley adds, “Through his scholarship, his dedication to his students, his influence on labour and employment law and policy, and his activism at the general workplace level to improve working conditions for those who are vulnerable, Mark is most deserving of this national recognition.”