Chronicle Herald labour dispute escalates as company prepares to lock out workers

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Photo: flickr/ Tony Webster

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Chronicle Herald labour battles:

  • February 2015: 13 unionized press workers locked out after rejecting proposals to change their pension packages
  • December 2014: 17 journalists turfed either through layoffs, early retirement, buyout packages or layoffs
  • March 2009: 24 newsroom positions cut

Atlantic Canada's largest newspaper is removing the bylines of its journalists and photographers as it prepares to lock out newsroom staff over contract disputes with the workers' union.

Negotiations between the Halifax Chronicle Herald, a family-run Nova Scotia daily, and the Halifax Typographical Union (HTU) -- which represents 61 editorial staff -- broke down last week.

Management at the Chronicle Herald, which has a history of downsizing and lockouts, are proposing major shake-ups in the newsroom, including cutting about a third of its editorial staff, slashing salaries, forcing employees to work longer hours and removing the gender parity clause in contracts, the HTU says.

The company has also indicated to the HTU it plans to get rid of photographers, reclassify reporters as multimedia journalists and outsource desk editing jobs -- all while expanding its advertorial department.

Ingrid Bulmer, president of the HTU, local 30130 of the Communication Workers of America-Canada, says members were disappointed with the company's swift issuance of the lockout notice. The conciliator report stating negotiations had reached an impasse was only filed with the provincial labour department on Friday.

By yesterday afternoon, things had escalated further, with an announcement to the newsroom that management were enforcing an indefinite ban on bylines and photo credits after unionized members had carried out their own one-day byline strike over the proposed changes. Talks between management and the HTU over the workers' contract began in November last year.

"We have language in our contract that allows us to pull our bylines, and we exercised our right to pull our bylines for one day," Bulmer says.

"The company retaliated with: 'well, you did it one day, now you're not going to get it at all.'"

Unionized workers, many of whom have spent decades working for the Chronicle Herald and its owners, the Halifax Dennis family, are continuing to remain resolute about the situation, Bulmer says.

"We've been expecting that they'd want to lock us out, but to go in 10 days ahead of time, almost the whole two-week cooling down period -- it's a tactic.

"They think that they can scare us and that by the time we go to negotiations, we'll just do what they want which is not going to happen. It's just a wholesale change of the contract that will set us back 20 years."

Strong support from the local community, fellow journalists, freelancers and the University of King's College -- where the Chronicle Herald are soliciting students as replacement labour for unionized workers -- means a lot to members, Bulmer says.

Tony Tracy, the Canadian Labour Congress organizer in Nova Scotia, says while a strike vote has been planned for Saturday, HTU members have no intention to take this type of action.

"The reporters and the editorial workers have never been on strike. They've always been able to resolve things through conciliation or mediation."

Two final bargaining days have been scheduled next week, before the cooling-off period expires and the lockout period begins at midnight Saturday January 23.

"It's pretty clear that the management of the Herald has an approach that's based frankly, on an attempt to bust the union," Tracy says.

Judy Haiven, associate professor at the department of management at Saint Mary's University, says actions by Chronicle Herald management indicate they do not want a resolution.

"It strikes me that management is probably stalling. In fact, management may want to inflame the situation. I think that they want to provoke the union," the industrial relations expert says.

"If you provoke the union to strike first, they won't have as much public sympathy than if they were locked out first.

"If the workers go on strike and it looks like they're greedy or demanding, then the public may not be sympathetic," Haiven says.

Chronicle Herald publisher Sarah Dennis and her husband Mark Lever, company chief executive and president, did not respond to requests for comment last night.

Nancy Cook, vice president of administration, also could not be reached.

According to the Chronicle Herald's website, the newspaper has a readership of 435,000. It is nearly 150 years old, and prides itself in being the last family-owned independent newspapers in Canada.


Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: flickr/ Tony Webster

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