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Op-ed: Herald continues its union-busting campaign of lies and distortion

Statement by CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon

Halifax Chronicle Herald “CEO” Mark Lever is at it again, using the province’s once-venerable newspaper of record to throw a temper tantrum and spew lies.

Mark has used the pages of the Herald several times as propaganda for his now-infamous feats of truth twisting, but today’s rant goes beyond anything we have seen before.

He doesn’t get one sentence in before he blurts out his first whopper – that the company has been at the negotiating table for several weeks. Fact: the sides have held only one bargaining session in months, and that was last week.

Oh no, newsroom workers. Quick, call security! Photo Robert Devet

Prior to that, the union had to work for days to persuade the company to even agree to off-the-record talks, and then we had to agree to pre-conditions to get the one session of mediated bargaining.

Mark goes on to claim, among other things, that the union ignored a media blackout, when in reality it was the company that broke the blackout by issuing a press release last Saturday. Again, that is a demonstrable fact.

And alas, poor Mark can’t even get basic facts right, painting us a big union with 64,000 members across Canada. Actually, we are one of the smallest unions in Canada with just 6,000 members – all media workers.

The remainder of Mark’s screed to a captive audience is full of distortion that it is not worthy of rebuttal.

Now let’s get to the true story:

Last week, Herald COO Ian Scott told us that unless we agree to the company’s demands, our members – their supposedly valued employees – will be out on the street until next Christmas (2017!). This from the company that is sponsoring the Halifax Christmas parade!

Does that sound like good-faith bargaining? Does it sound like an employer who’s trying to reach a deal?

The company keeps insisting that we agree to its demands BEFORE we meet. They do not want to negotiate, they only want capitulation. That is not bargaining — and it’s not legal.

And that is why, after nine long months on strike, we are filing an Unfair Labour Practice complaint with the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

The stubbornness, arrogance and double-speak of the Herald’s management is stunning. They claim this dispute is about money, yet when we offer to agree to their monetary concessions, they refuse to drop their non-monetary demands.

Meanwhile, we estimate they have spent $500,000 on legal costs and we know they have spent near $500,000 on security to “protect” themselves from 55 peace-loving media workers. A retired florist with narcolepsy could provide all the security needed for this strike.

The truth is, money is simply the excuse being used by the company to try to gut the contract and bust the union.

Judge by the facts:

  • The union has offered to take an across-the-board 5% wage cut.
  • The union has accepted the company’s demand to end the Herald pension plan.
  • The union has agreed to the company’s demand for a much lower pay scale for its proposed editing Hub.

These concessions will save the company millions of dollars.

Despite this, the company continues to demand unreasonable non-monetary concessions, including the elimination of seniority as a key factor in layoffs — meaning they could fire anyone for any reason regardless of years of dedicated, loyal service. In contrast, the union has proposed common-sense language: that layoffs follow seniority, provided the worker has the skills to do the job.

The fact is, we have signed many deals at newspapers across the country over the last year with wage increases and no concessions. The Herald is the only company demanding major concessions. Why is that?

The saddest part about this dispute is that it is so unnecessary. As a responsible union, we understand when a company is facing financial challenges and we’re willing to help. That’s why we have agreed to major monetary concessions.

If finances really were the issue, the Herald simply needed to work co-operatively with us to find solutions. Instead, it chose to declare war on its own workers by forcing them out on strike.

The result?

  • Ad revenue has plummeted, with the company offering massive discounts.
  • The Herald brand and reputation are in tatters.
  • The proud legacy of the Herald as the newspaper of record for Nova Scotia is gone.
  • The proud legacy of the Dennis family is sullied.
  • For the first time in history, the Herald is no longer the most-read newspaper in Halifax – it has dropped to No. 2 behind Metro Halifax.

Mark Lever has already bankrupted two companies (on the public record) and we fear he is on his way to destroying a third – but this time a provincial treasure is at risk.

We sincerely hope the Herald will reconsider its destructive and irresponsible course of action. We are ready to return to the bargaining table at any time.

This CWA press release was issued on November 9th. It is re-posted with permission.