Spotlight On: Bob Hebdon

September 12, 2019 by CIRHR Communications

Graduated: 1992
Thesis: Industrial Conflict Under Ontario's No-Strike Laws
Research areas: industrial conflict, public sector labor relations and restructuring, collective bargaining, dispute resolution
Now: Professor Emeritus, Organizational Behaviour, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University  

2020 marks 30 years since the first PhD was awarded by the CIRHR.Over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, the CIRHR will be publishing profiles that bring the research and careers of all our PhD alumni together in one place. Find out more.


Bob Hebdon had a 24-year career as the Senior Research Officer and Research Director with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) before beginning his PhD at the CIRHR. Having observed workers and how collective bargaining works under compulsory arbitration, he says he read with interest the academic literature on arbitration.  

“I noticed that scholars tended to assume that because there were no strikes and unions did not challenge the arbitration process that arbitration brought labour peace. I developed a hypothesis that industrial conflict, defined broadly in the literature to include job actions, grievances, unfair labour practices, absenteeism, etc., might increase when strikes are not permitted.” 

Hebdon describes how the CIRHR’s library influenced his doctoral research studying this hypothesis. He says after a couple of years, he was troubled by the absence of any reference to it in the academic literature.  

“Why was it not mentioned as a possible relationship or phenomenon? Was it because it was too trivial to merit any attention? I began to doubt my thesis. One day, one of the Centre's excellent librarians, Bruce Pearce, stopped me in the library with a question. "I am throwing out some old materials and thought you might be interested in a study on conflict by Stuart Jamieson as part of the Woods task force in 1968", he said. I grabbed the lengthy report and read it that day. You guessed it, it had my thesis hypothesis in it.” 
“Here is a quote from page 30 of my thesis:  Thus conflict suppression, he hypothesizes, will lead to either "apathy and withdrawal" or "transference to other forms of expression of conflict" (Jamieson 1968,10-11).” 

The moral of this story, Hebdon says, is to never underestimate the value of professional librarians and a good library to the scholarly process. 

In addition to industrial conflict, Hebdon’s research interests include public sector labor relations and restructuring, collective bargaining, and dispute resolution. 

Selected publications: 

  • Dachis, Benjamin and Robert Hebdon. 2010. “The Laws of Unintended Consequences: The Effect of Labour Legislation on Wages and Strikes”. C. D. Howe Institute, 26 pages. 
  • Polushin, William and Robert Hebdon. 2009. “Sustaining and Improving Growth and Competitiveness: Addressing the Needs of the Labour Market in Knowledge-Driven Economies”. Program for International Competitiveness, Faculty of Management, McGill University, 65 pages. 
  • Hebdon, Robert and Hazel Dayton Gunn. 1995. "The Costs and Benefits of Privatization at the Local Level in New York State," Community and Rural Development Institute, Cornell University. 
  • Hebdon, Robert. 1994. "The Perils of Privatization: Lessons for New York State", monograph, Cornell University, 80 pages. 
  • Hebdon, Robert. 2014. “Public Sector Labor Policy: a Human Rights Approach”, University of Nevada Law Journal 
  • Jalette, P., and Hebdon, R. 2012. Unions and Privatization: Opening the “Black Box”. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 65, issue 1, pp. 17-35. 
  • Hebdon, Robert and Patrice Jalette. 2008. “The Restructuring of Municipal Services: A Canada - United States Comparison", Journal of Environment and Planning C - Local Government and Policy, Vol. 26, pp. 144-58. 
  • Bel, Germà, Robert Hebdon and Mildred Warner. 2007. “Local Government Reform: Privatisation and its Alternatives”. Local Government Studies, Vol. 33, Issue 4, pp. 507 - 515 
  • Hebdon, Robert. 2006. “Contracting Public Services in New York State: Labor Effects”. Relations Industrielles, Vol. 61, No. 3., pp. 513-533. 
  • Hebdon, Robert. 2005. “Toward a Theory of Workplace Conflict: The Case of U.S. Municipal Collective Bargaining”, Advances in Industrial and Labor Relations, Vol. 14, pp. 35-67.  

Hebdon’s work includes collaborations with CIRHR faculty and alumni, including Travor Brown (PhD 1999), Maurice Mazerolle (PhD 1993), Doug Hyatt (PhD 1992), and Professor Michele Campolieti. He was the 2007 recipient of the Morley Gunderson Prize, which recognizes and honours current students or graduates of the CIRHR who combine outstanding professional achievement with significant service to the Centre. 

Selected publications: 

  • Hebdon, Robert and Travor Brown. 2012. “Industrial Relations in Canada” 2nd edition.Toronto: Nelson Thompson, 444 pages.  
  • Hebdon, Robert and Travor Brown. 2007. “Industrial Relations in Canada”. Toronto: Nelson Thompson, 384 pages. 
  • Campolieti, Michael, Robert Hebdon, and Benjamin Dachis. 2014. “The Impact of Collective Bargaining Legislation on Strike Activity and Wage Settlements”, Industrial Relations. 
  • Campolieti, Michael, Robert Hebdon, and Douglas Hyatt. 2005. “Strike Incidence and Strike Duration: Some New Evidence from Ontario”, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 (July 2005), pp. 610-630. 
  • Hebdon, Robert and Maurice Mazerolle. 2003. “Regulating Conflict in Public Sector Labour Relations: The Ontario Experience (1984–1993)”, Relations Industrielles, Vol.58, No.4, pp. 667-686. 
  • Hebdon, Robert, Maurice Mazerolle, and Douglas Hyatt. 1999."Implications of Small Bargaining Units and Enterprise Unions on Bargaining Disputes: A Look into the Future?”, Relations Industrielles, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp.503-526. 

Before his career at OPSEU and prior to coming to the Centre, Bod Hebdon graduated from U of T with an MA in Economics. After completing his PhD, he taught collective bargaining for seven years at the School of Industrial Relations at Cornell University, and joined McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management in 2000 following a year at the University of Manitoba. He was Associate Dean for Student Affairs, in the McGIll BCom Program from 2012 to 2014 and also has experience as a neutral in labour-management relations, acting as an arbitrator in Ontario. 

In addition to the Gunderson Prize, Hebdon was awarded the Canadian Pacific Scholarship in 1989, and the Gérard Dion award, presented by the Canadian Industrial Relations Association in recognition of outstanding contributions to the discipline.