Chronicle Herald CEO threatens 'work stoppage,' union holds strike vote as tensions escalate

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Bosses at Nova Scotia's Halifax Chronicle Herald, who made headlines earlier this week for refusing to print reporter bylines over a contract dispute with its newsroom staff, are warning readers to expect a "work stoppage" at the paper.

Mark Lever, president and chief executive of the Chronicle Herald -- Atlantic Canada's largest paper -- discusses the contract negotiations in an open letter to readers in Saturday's edition of the Chronicle Herald.

"While we will continue to work hard to come to an agreement in a final round of meetings later this week, there is now a very real possibility of a work stoppage," he says.

"It is not, nor has it ever been our intent to lock out newsroom staff. However, the current contract is unsustainable."

Lever and the management team at the daily paper, which prides itself on being Canada's last family-owned newspaper, claim cuts in the newsroom are critical to the publication's survival.

However, the Halifax Typographical Union (HTU) - which represents 61 editorial staff at the paper - disputes this, arguing the wide-ranging changes and cutbacks are more likely to damage the Chronicle Herald’s reputation than enhance it.

In his letter, Lever -- who is married to the paper's publisher Sarah Dennis -- states:

"Change is never easy but change we must. We simply cannot commit to spend money we don't have and accept conditions that prevent us from operating a modern newsroom.

"These changes will involve layoffs. Unfortunately, some of the people involved in designing and producing pages and some of the people who take photographs will be laid off.

"They will receive severance amounts well beyond those outlined in provincial labour statutes and many will have the option of continuing to work in the company.” he says.

The Chronicle Herald, which has been engaged in several rounds of restructuring and a lock out in the past seven years, began discussions with the HTU over the workers' contract in November.

When negotiations reached an impasse between the parties last week, contrary to standard procedure, the company opted to issue a lock out notice at the beginning of the two-week cooling off period. The notice also came before the final two negotiating days, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week.

According to the HTU, the changes being proposed would result in a third of newsroom editorial staff being cut, salary reductions, longer hours for employees and the removal of the clause ensuring equal pay for equal work in contracts -- all while the company's advertorial department is expanded.

Frank Campbell, vice president of the HTU, local 30130 of the Communication Workers of America-Canada, says the actions of the Chronicle Herald management are not indicative of an organization focused on preserving its journalistic integrity.

"It is difficult to imagine how the Herald is going to improve its storytelling capabilities while laying off the experienced and professional photographers and editors that bring those stories to life.

"Despite the cash-strapped situation it claims to be in, the Herald is still able to hire to fill non-unionized positions, including additional newsroom managers to oversee a continually declining unionized newsroom staff," Campbell says.

News the company is soliciting freelancers and local journalism students from the University of King's College to act as temporary labour during the lock out is being condemned by the HTU and wider journalism community.

Readers, fellow journalists and unions -- including the student union at King's College and the Canadian Freelance Union -- are actively discouraging any engagement in scabbing and breaking of the picket line.

Herald workers held a strike vote yesterday and voted 60 to one for job action.

Unless an agreement is reached in the next working week, the lockout period will commence Saturday January 23.

According to its website, the Chronicle Herald is nearly 150 years old and has a weekly readership of 435,000.


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