Members of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild
(ONG) voted 124 to 39 to accept a five-year collective
agreement that provides annual salary increases of
2.5 per cent in the first and last years, and two per
cent in the middle three years. With national inflation
running at 3.4 per cent, it actually amounts to a wage
Even though the Guild had made significant gains in
areas such as benefits and contract language over five
months of difficult negotiations, the bargaining committee
had urged members to reject the final offer from the
profitable CanWest-owned newspaper.
"I'm disappointed with the outcome because I
believe our members were afraid to reject the offer.
They thought they would be locked out and they would
never work at the Citizen again," says ONG president
“It’s not the wage gains our members deserve,
but we respect their choice,” she says.
The more than 200 Guild members, who work in editorial,
circulation, building maintenance and financial services,
had 10 days earlier voted 83 per cent in favour of
giving the bargaining team a strike mandate. The Guild
declared at that time that a strike was the last thing
it wanted and preferred to continue negotiating until
it achieved a fair contract.
The workplace was rife with rumours that the company
was preparing to lock out Guild members. Publisher
Jim Orban did nothing to dispel that notion.
In a letter addressed to ONG
members but circulated to all staff on Friday, Orban
said that a labour dispute "could
last a long time" because "some 400 of us
who do not belong to the Guild will continue to publish
and distribute the Citizen, both in print and online,
and to serve our readers, our advertisers and our community."
Orban's letter said the Sunday
vote "could be
one of the most important decisions in the history
of this newspaper, with serious consequences for you
and everyone else who works at the Citizen. As such,
I want you to understand clearly what rejection of
the final offer will mean, not only for you, but for
all of us.
"For you, a rejection
of the final offer will not give your bargaining
committee a stronger mandate to take to the bargaining
table. Bargaining is over. This is a final offer.
If you reject the offer, not only will you have given
the Guild a strike mandate, you will have given it
the authority to move forward with an actual strike,
on 48-hours notice, without further consultation
David Esposti, the CWA Canada staff representative
who led the negotiations, says the issues members are
now facing have been building over the last decade.
That they went through conciliation, mediation and
then strongly endorsed a strike mandate is a first
for the Local.
"The members were becoming a lot more proactive," which
the publisher didn't like, says Esposti. "Basically,
he took a group of people who were standing up for
themselves and he beat them down."
He adds that it was clear "the
mentality (of the members) was they were going to
get locked out."
Kirkup, who was buoyed earlier
in the month by a membership that was enthusiastic
in supporting the bargaining team, says of management: "I
think their bullying tactics worked."
Working conditions and morale at the Citizen have
deteriorated since the Asper family bought the former
Southam newspaper chain from disgraced media baron
Conrad Black in 2000.
Buyouts and attrition have reduced newsroom staffing
to little more than a skeleton crew which struggles
to cope with an ever-increasing workload. A significant
salary increase was seen as a form of compensation
for long-suffering employees who have had to do more
with less for several years now.