CHEK TV rescuer urges unions
now for Canwest newspaper sales
Leaders of union locals at Canwest newspapers
must start exploring alternative ownership options as the
media conglomerate struggles to stave off bankruptcy.
Richard Konwick, one of the saviours of CHEK TV in Victoria
BC, told members of CWA Canada's National Representative
Council that they need to be prepared to take a leadership
role to determine the future of their employers.
Konwick is assignment editor and president
of the CEP union local at the station, which was saved from
closing on Aug. 31 by an employee-driven ownership group
that took control of the station from Canwest. The sale was
approved Monday by the CRTC, which renewed the station's
broadcasting licence until 2016.
Konwick said it wouldn't have been possible to save the station from
closure had it not been unionized. He also gave credit to station manager
John Pollard, who put CHEK's interest ahead of Canwest's and was the first
to get the ball rolling.
Delegates were told that having a unionized workforce is an advantage
to survival of newspapers and television stations that become casualties
of crumbling media empires in Canada and the United States. The rescue
of CHEK is a perfect case in point.
The fact that they were unionized gave the CHEK employees a structure
and enabled Konwick to negotiate on their behalf. With CEP help, employees
bought 25 per cent of the equity with the remainder coming from local
Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild,
said the employee-led rescue of CHEK was "a miraculous story," especially considering
that "Canwest wouldn't play ball until the last minute."
She noted that the sale of CHEK was worked out in five weeks; usually
it would take about eight months.
Lareau, who reported
the deal in her Media Biz
said the big lesson learned from Konwick's seminar was
that media employees "have
to stick together, work together and be players in the
future of their newspaper of TV station."
"Unions have taken a leadership role in the future of many industries.
Our members know this business,and have more riding on the outcome," said
Lareau, who has been exploring alternative ownership models.
She was most impressed with a recent study by Free Press in the United
States that provides a wealth of information on models ranging from non-profits
to community ownership.
“However, the alternative ownership model need be nothing more
than ensuring employees receive a stake in their company from a sacrifice
they make to help preserve the business,” Lareau added. “There
are a range of solutions that we need to explore.”
"The Canwest papers could be up for grabs soon. We need to start
looking at options before they go on the block. We need to be in the driver's
seat," said Lareau, who's looking forward to "promoting the
end of the conglomerate model and encouraging local ownership
of daily newspapers once again."