The Canadian Media Guild fights on behalf of its members in negotiations with The Canadian Press

When the company you’re negotiating with starts off by calling its financial situation “dire,” it’s probably safe to assume you’re in for a long and bumpy ride.

That’s the message that the Canadian Media Guild heard from to The Canadian Press late last year, when it began negotiating with the company on behalf of its members. Their contract was expiring at the end of 2011, and CP said that it was looking at cutting wages, benefits, pension, and premiums, even after 10 Guild members had left their jobs—some voluntarily, some not.

In a Dec 1. update to members, the Guild’s CP Branch President, Terry Pedwell, wrote that “successful businesses don’t cut their way to greatness” and that increasing revenue will be “essential to ensuring the survival and growth of The Canadian Press,” a sentiment echoed in subsequent updates.

By mid-December, CP was suggesting both job cuts and reductions to wages and benefits, but offering no improvements to the contract. Both sides agreed to review the existing pension arrangement, and deal was struck that brought the vacation year in line with the calendar year but didn’t lose members any accrued vacation time. A month later, CP suggested scrapping eliminate early retirement provisions and instituting a two-tiered salary structure that would affect reporters, editors and photographers hired after ratification. The CMG’s bargaining committee wrote that “their approach is not only unrealistic, it would also be destructive to the future of the company,” while continuing to present provisions including no salary cuts for employees and a modest annual across-the-board increase, as well as the preservation of pension and benefits plans.

Soon after, CP applied to the federal Ministry of Labour for a conciliator, and this week, Jennifer Webster got a 60-day mandate as conciliator for the negotiations. That period could be extended if both sides agree it’s worthwhile to keep talking. If the conciliation period ends with negotiations at an impasse, after a three-week-long “cooling off” period, CP could lock out the workers, or the workers could strike. An update from the CMG on Jan. 19 indicated their bargaining committee was not ruling out work action: “It’s important to remember that a strong strike mandate generally helps make a deal happen, because it shows the employer that its employees are willing to stand up for their rights and that they support their bargaining committee.” A week later, it seemed CP was not budging, after they tabled another offer that included cuts to wages and benefits.

On Feb. 6, the CMG posted each side’s most recent proposals and, for the first time, included specific figures.

CP has asked for, among other things, a 10 per cent rollback for all base salaries or no salary rollback and a reduction of an unknown number of jobs; a lower pay scale for new reporters, editors and photographer; and eliminating access to any benefit programs for part-time and temporary employees. The company presented these provisions as an alternative to layoffs, but the CMG posted on their site, “Accepting wage concessions in no way guarantees there won’t be job cuts now or in the future; all it ensures is that they wouldn’t think twice about coming back to us for more concessions in the future.”

This is what the Guild proposed (quoted from this post):

– A reasonable salary increase – we haven’t given a precise figure

– Co-insurance on a 75/25 basis for most coverage and are prepared to look at benefits to find savings for both the employer and employees.

– Shift premiums exist for a reason, not least to compensate for the already-low base rates, but we’d be prepared to discuss the precise rules and applicability of shift premiums.

– Sick leave – a scale to take an employee’s salary from 100% down to 70% over six months, at which time Long-Term Disability benefits take over.

– Part-time employees – no change in access to benefits, and a commitment from the employer to a minimum number of hours per week for each part-time employee.

– Temporary employees – pay in lieu of benefits that could be used to buy coverage.

– Pension – we are prepared to discuss how to make the pension payback less onerous for the company, but employees are owed money and expect to see it repaid, with interest.

– New provision to post all jobs across the country.

After talking to its CP members, a strong message emerged that the company’s proposed cuts would affect the quality of its product: “The company’s proposals would have a cumulative negative impact on how The Canadian Press operates. Asking staff who are already working all-out to do even more work for less money will undermine morale and the quality of the content we produce.” The CMG also noted that the outcome of these negotiations could have a ripple effect throughout the industry: “Driving our salaries down and gutting the collective agreement does nothing to advance our interests, and it would only serve to exert even more pressure on our colleagues at other media outlets – most notably the Star, the Globe & Mail and La Presse.”

Until 2010, CP was a not-for-profit cooperative run by its member newspapers. It is currently operated by Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., a for-profit entity owned by Torstar, the Globe and Mail, and Square Victoria Communications Group.

Negotiations continue this month. Keep an eye on Story Board for updates.

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

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