Our local has about 74 members but only the newsroom unit is on strike.
We are 54 reporters, editors, photographers, videographers, columnists, editorial writers and support staff. We are all committed to keeping Nova Scotians informed on what goes on in their communities and arts communities, governments, schools, sports and business. (We've created our own strike news website, localxpress.ca. It operates as a non-profit.)
We started the strike with 61 members but seven have moved on for a variety of reasons.
- Twenty-two women, 32 men
- Our ages range from early 30s to 60s. Most of our members, 33 of them, are in their late 40s and 50s
- Thirty-seven are in a partnership or married. Of these 37, 10 are the sole breadwinners in their families
- Six of our members are single parents
- Two of our members are widowed and have children
- Thirty-four of our members have children, ranging in age from infancy to 30s. One of our members had a baby last April
- Eleven of our members have children in college or university
- One of our members suffered a stroke while on the picket line; another member was hospitalized for weeks with a serious immune disorder. We are happy to say both are much improved!
- Two of our members have disabled spouses who require care and are unable to work
WHY WE UNIONIZED
The composing and press room bargaining units have been in existence for decades. The newsroom organized in 1999. At that time, we'd gone through a decade of extreme belt-tightening by the company. There were no raises and new staff were hired on year-to-year contracts with terrible benefits. There were examples of reporters working side-by-side with one making $30,000 to $40,000 more than the other. One photographer, who is still with us, had to go to the food bank in order to feed his family. So our fight was for fairness and decent salaries with benefits. We successfully negotiated contracts in 1999, 2003, 2008, and 2011.
It is crucial that newsrooms be independent and be able to defend themselves against corporate and political interests and favouritism. In order to "speak truth to power" within our own company, we need the strong protection of our union.
When our employer told us on the final day of the strike/lockout countdown that it was going to impose a contract on us, we had no choice but to strike. That day, Jan. 23, 2016, was over a year ago. The imposed contract was draconian - among other things, it would have eroded our jurisdiction and drastically reduced severance to the members who, illegally, received layoff notices on Day 1 of the strike. Most of those who received those layoff notices had been with the company for 25 years or more.
While in talks with the company before and during the strike, we offered many concessions: jurisdiction for page production, a five per cent wage cut, a lower salary for new hires (the dreaded two-tier system), a cap on banked time and when it can be used, reduced vacation, an eight-year deal, a longer work week, reduced mileage, and, even more significantly, a freeze of the defined benefit pension plan.
We have also been informed that 29 of our members will be laid off once the strike is settled.
Unbelievably, the company has said it needs even more concessions. We are holding firm, however, on our remaining jurisdiction, layoff by seniority, severance and overtime.
Here are some examples that illustrate how unreasonable the company is: they want to reduce our sick leave benefit to 66 1/3 of salary after one month, yet keep the rest of the Herald staff, 300 or so non-Union staff, at 100 per cent; they want the content of our news website Local Xpress for free!; and they want to reduce the vacation, pro rata, of our local's leadership when they take union leave even though we reimburse the company for their salaries. One other issue has remained outstanding and we just shake our heads at this: The company wants the power to remove posts from our union bulletin board.
We were in talks a couple of weeks ago but the company wanted too much so we left the table. We have told the company we have given them millions of dollars in savings.
We have twice asked the minister of labour to call an industrial inquiry commission to examine the causes of this dispute.
We are cognizant of the fact that other employers are keeping a close eye on this strike to see what they might be able to get away with.
In the last year, our union, CWA-SCA Canada, has reached settlements with eight newspapers across the country, including at two Irving-owned papers in New Brunswick and the Transcontinental-owned Cape Breton Post. All deals have wage increases and no concessions.
To help, go here: http://www.htu-cwa.ca/how-you-can-help