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Halifax Chronicle Herald poised to lock out journalists

Company targets news jobs, journalism

Almost a third of newsroom jobs and the survival of quality journalism are at stake at the Halifax Chronicle Herald, where management has served notice that it plans to lock out staff at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 23.

The company’s plan to slash news coverage and increase “sponsored content” has met with stunned disbelief in journalism circles.

Among the more egregious of the Herald’s proposals is to cut almost its entire editing staff and offer some jobs working in its non-unionized advertorial department for much lower pay and benefits.

The company also wants to cut wages and pensions, including replacing the company pension plan, and gut the union contract.

The Halifax Typographical Union (HTU), which represents 61 newsroom workers, is to hold a strike vote Jan. 16 in an effort to get the company to bargain seriously during two days of conciliation set for Jan. 20 and 21.

The CWA Canada Local’s president, Ingrid Bulmer, said there’s little reason to be optimistic: “We believe that the company, from the beginning, intended to lock us out.”

Talks broke down just before Christmas when the company abruptly walked out of conciliation talks, “leaving the union to digest a total rewrite of the contract that would set us back 20 years,” Bulmer said.

CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said it’s hard to understand why management would lock out staff knowing it would badly damage the newspaper at a time when the company says it is facing serious financial pressure.

“If, as they say, they are hurting financially, why would they do this?” O’Hanlon asked.

“A lockout would cost them advertisers and subscribers, many of whom would never return. It’s troubling that we are more concerned than management is about the Herald’s brand and future.

“We hope sanity will prevail and that the company will seriously consider the union’s proposal during conciliation next week. But so far they have insisted on an all-or-nothing offer which would cut wages and pensions and gut the union contract, even on non-monetary issues."

The company has already announced that it plans to lay off 18 workers — even if the union accepted its concessions, which include an increase in working hours, no recognition of seniority regarding layoffs, and elimination of the contract clause recognizing equal pay for equal work for male and female employees.

The bargaining unit includes reporters, photographers, editorial writers, editors, columnists, page technicians, library and support staff in Halifax and in provincial bureaus.

Herald management has said it intends to get rid of its photographers and reclassify reporters as multimedia journalists. It would also lay off almost its entire editing staff — the deskers who produce three print editions daily and the web editors who post online content.

“As we face more deep cuts to the newsroom, we feel very strongly that the company is leading us toward irrelevance: less depth, less journalism, fewer compelling stories, more rewrites of news releases and more sponsored content,” Bulmer said.

“It’s an insult to us and to all Nova Scotians who rely on the Chronicle Herald as a respected source of news.”

It was just over a year ago that the Herald eliminated 17 newsroom jobs through layoffs and buyouts.

“At the same time,” said Bulmer, “the company continues to expand its advertorial and paid-content products, run by the advertising department, and which include its growing stable of free weeklies distributed across the province to compete with real community newspapers with a long-standing presence in their areas.”

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