KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This Monday it will be one year since Chronicle Herald newsroom workers, members of the Halifax Typographical Union, walked off the job and engaged in a defensive strike.
Tom Ayers, a reporter with the Chronicle Herald who works in Sydney and covers Cape Breton politics and events, says he always knew it could be a long strike. But an entire year, that’s much longer than Ayers ever expected the strike to last.
“A year is a really long time,” says Ayers. “I lost my work routine. My daily routine is now to get up and go to the picket line, and spend time on social media asking people not to support the Chronicle Herald while we are on strike.”
If it weren’t for his work for the workers-maintained Local Xpress news site, he’d be lost, says Ayers.
Just about a year ago, barely a couple of weeks into the strike, we first talked with Ayers. At that time he mentioned the sizable support he and his two co-workers received from the people in Sydney.
“Other unions are there for us if we need to talk, or if we need help organizing a rally. That has taught me a lot about what it means to be not just in a union, but part of the union movement.” .
That support is still there, he says. People still stop to chat, buy him coffee, people still beep their horns. But over the last year he discovered a different kind of support.
“I have been a journalist now for 31 years. I have been a member of four media unions, but I had never been on strike before. It took this last year to really understand what solidarity means,” says Ayers.
“Other unions are there for us if we need to talk, or if we need help organizing a rally. That has taught me a lot about what it means to be not just in a union, but part of the union movement,” Ayers says.
Of course it helps that Sydney has always been and still is a union-friendly town. Efforts by the Chronicle Herald to operate the Cape Breton Star, a free weekly publication for all of Cape Breton, became unsuccessful once the strike began. Cape Bretoners weren’t picking it up, people weren’t buying ads.
The Cape Breton Star has “come up against a prevailing headwind of union sympathy in industrial Cape Breton,” wrote the company in a press release after the tabloid folded in September of last year.
Next week, as workers begin year two of the strike, talks between the Herald and the union are expected to resume.
Earlier efforts to bridge the gap between workers and management didn’t go anywhere, and Ayers is hopeful but not overly optimistic that this time things will be different.
“After a year, you have to wonder why now? We’ve become cynical, through no fault of our own. Hope it’s genuine this time. I try to keep an even keel and not get my hopes up too high,” Ayers says.
The company wants to cut salaries and increase working hours, significantly reduce benefits in the defined benefit pension plan, and eliminate seniority considerations when staff are targeted for layoffs.
As well, management insists it needs to reduce the newsroom in size and to farm out layout and design to a non-union entity.
“I understand they need to make a profit, I get that, we all do,” says Ayers. “But the news business is changing. The company admits on the one hand that its business model is broken, that it needs to deal with the internet and the loss of advertising and declining circulation.
“But all the proposals have been designed to bust the union. How is that gaining readers back? The company need to find a way to resolve cost issues, but ultimately they need to solve the revenue problem. Getting rid of the union is not going to solve that.
“The best way to do that is to talk to the employees who have been in the business for years, who are putting that product out there, and let’s all find a way to move forward differently.”
Join the Herald workers on January 23 for a Day of Protest in Halifax, Sydney, Antigonish, Bridgewater, Yarmouth and Wolfville to mark their one-year anniversary on strike.
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