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Union seeks legal intervention in looming lockout in Halifax

CWA Canada has thrown a monkey wrench into apparent plans by the Halifax Chronicle Herald to lock out pressroom employees on Feb. 21.

The Nova Scotia Labour Board, which is now considering on an urgent basis a bad-faith bargaining complaint filed Feb. 9, has been asked to declare such a lockout illegal and to order compensation for any worker harmed financially by such an action.

The complaint, filed by the Halifax Typographical Union (HTU), a Local of CWA Canada, alleges the company “has bargained to an impasse” and is trying to “force acceptance by the union of an improper and unlawful collective bargaining proposal.”

CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said the company is trying to renege on a binding commitment made in 2007 to provide early retirement to eligible employees in that and all future contracts.

“The Chronicle Herald made a clear, legally binding promise to its veteran employees and now it’s trying to break that promise,” said O’Hanlon.

The company’s proposals and tactics are a clear violation of Section 35 of the Trade Union Act, the union argues.

The union and the company are scheduled for mediation on Feb. 18. Three days later, they would be in a lockout/strike position.

The HTU has been trying since early December to negotiate a new collective agreement for 13 press operators and industrial mechanics.It has put forward very modest proposals and noted that its position is flexible.

The pressroom employees, said HTU President Ingrid Bulmer, “have absolutley no intention of striking because it will be bad for the newspaper as it tries to move forward.”

The company, said CWA Canada staff representative David Esposti who has been assisting in the negotiations, is clearly out to “gut the contract.”

It is demanding several major concessions, including some involving job security, and a four-year wage freeze. This comes on the heels of the elimination of 17 newsroom jobs last fall.

The HTU, which set up a Friends of the Chronicle Herald page on Facebook last year, reported on Feb. 4 that the company had begun erecting a security fence at its printing facility. “It is galling that our publisher would spend thousands of scarce dollars on intimidating security measures yet refuses to entertain a request for a $65 annual expenditure to cover protective equipment for its 13 pressroom employees,” the post observed.

“They’ve got a fence up, they’re going to lock us out,” said Esposti. “We are on the record as saying we are not going to strike.”

The company has sent a letter to non-unionized staff, saying they should be prepared for a lockout and that arrangements were being made to have scabs (“replacement workers”) do the work.

Esposti said the employer asked for conciliation before bargaining began Dec. 3 to 5. “They went in with that position and went out with that position. They did not engage in any meaningful bargaining.”

The early retirement provisions in the contract (age 55 with 30 years of service) would apply to only one of six press operators over the term of a four-year agreement, said Esposti. Furthermore, with 13 members in the bargaining unit, seven who were hired after July 1, 2006, would not be eligible for that early-retirement deal.

For interviews or more information, contact Martin O'Hanlon (email / 613-820-8460).