Spotlight On: Johanna Weststar

September 12, 2019 by CIRHR Communications

Graduated: 2007 
Thesis: Studies in Learning and Work: Job Control, Participation in Learning and Unemployment  
Research areas: industrial and labour relations, union renewal, project-based work, digital and cultural labour, representation and citizenship at work, pension board governance, underemployment, workplace learning
Now: Associate Professor, Department of Management and Organizational Studies, Western 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.


Johanna Weststar (CIRHR PhD 2007) says while she had always enjoyed playing video games, she had never really thought about the people who make them, until a watershed moment in 2004 industry when the wife of a game developer published a heartfelt and scathing critique of working conditions in the industry on her blog. While she was working on a different topic at the time as part of her PhD, Weststar says she knew then that this was the topic she would study next. 

Westar notes that she started studying employment relations in that industry when no one else was, adding “I started thinking about unionization and now it is actually happening - which is super cool for an academic.” 

She says, “I've chosen to distribute a lot of my research in industry-facing work because I feel that this is an important component of my job, but to know that I am actually a part of how the industry is changing is really rewarding.” 

Selected publications: 

  • Weststar, J. (2015). Understanding video game developers as an occupational community. Information, Communication and Society, 18(10):1238-1252. DOI 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1036094.   
  • Legault, M. J. & Weststar, J. (2015). The Capacity for Mobilization in Project-Based Cultural Work: A Case of the Video Game Industry. Canadian Journal of Communication, 40(2): 203-221.   
  • Peticca-Harris, A., Weststar, J. & McKenna, S. (2015). The perils of project-based work: Attempting resistance to extreme work conditions in video game development. Organization, 22(4): 570- 587.   
  • Legault, M. J. & Weststar, J. (2014). “Comment jouer la régulation dans l’industrie du jeu vidéo? Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, 69(1): 136-158.   

Weststar’s research interests are diverse but are united by themes of union and industrial relations renewal, labour voice and participation, and worker autonomy and control. While she has published articles in areas including underemployment, pregnancy and parental leave, and workplace learning, the other core area of her research is pension board governance and the role of labour. Weststar’s research “questions the existence of a distinct 'labour voice' at board tables with labour or member representatives and attempts to examine the factors that hinder the development and exertion of that voice as well as the factors that facilitate that voice.” 

Selected publications: 

  • Sayce, S., Weststar, J. & Verma, A. (2014). “The recruitment and selection of pension trustees: An integrative approach” Human Resource Management Journal, 24(3): 307-322. First published online Dec, 2012.  
  • Verma, A. & Weststar, J. (2011). Token presence or substantive participation? A study of labor trustees on pension boards. Journal of Labor Research, 32(1), 39-60.  

Weststar is also doing important work with the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA). Having previously served on their Pensions and Benefits Committee, including as Chair, she is now in her second term on the Board of Directors. But it is serving as the Deputy Chief Negotiator for the Faculty Bargaining Unit (for the 2017-18 round) and as the Chief Negotiator for the Librarian and Archivist Bargaining Unit (ongoing as of July 2019) that Weststar describes as both most important and most impactful on her. 

“These experiences have really validated the importance of labour and employment relations as an important academic field, but also given me a new depth as a scholar of the field because of the direct first-hand experiences of facing an employer across the table and the struggles of workers to achieve fairness and voice.” 

Selected publications: 

  • Weststar, J. (2012). “Negotiating in silence: Experiences with parental leave in academia”. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 73(3), 345-367.   

Weststar’s work includes other CIRHR collaborations in addition to the research on pension boards conducted with CIRHR professor Anil Verma. “Work hour congruence: The effect on job satisfaction and absenteeism,” published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management, was co-authored with Byron Lee (CIRHR PhD 2011) and Jing Wang (CIRHR PhD 2010) 

  • Lee, B., Wang, J. & Weststar, J. (2015). Work hour congruence: The effect on job satisfaction and absenteeism. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(5), 657-675. First published online June 3, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/095851.   

Indeed, Weststar names the bonds between PhD students as some of her strongest memories from her time at the Centre:   

“Sitting in the old PhD office on the 3rd floor of Woodsworth College, I would be in one cubicle and Rupa Banerjee, who was the other student in my year, was in the one beside me. We would work on assignments or papers, or study for our comps and call out to each other whenever we had questions or just had things to rant about. Learning from the best examples of worker 'soldiering' we made a pact that we would not be those PhD students who did nothing but work. Of course, we worked plenty hard, but we developed a really strong bond that continues to this day.” 

Before coming to the Centre, Weststar earned an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree in Arts and Science and Psychology from McMaster University and a Master's degree in Industrial Relations from Queen’s University. After completing her PhD, Weststar spent four years as an Assistant Professor in the Management Department at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia before returning to Ontario, where she is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Management and Organizational Studies and an Adjunct Professor in Psychology at Western University. She is also President of the Canadian Industrial Relations Association and she is a member of LERA, CAWLS, ILERA, DiGRA and IGDA. Her awards include the Canadian Association of University Teachers Dedicated Service Award and the Dancap Private Equity Faculty Fellowship, DAN Management and Organizational Studies, Western University in 2012, IGDA MVP, for outstanding service to the International Game Developers Association in 2014, and a 2015 nomination for the International Labour and Employment Relations Association Luis Aparicio Valdez Prize.