It was an endurance test of almost 19 months, but the Halifax Typographical Union stood its ground on the key issue of job security. Members today voted 94 per cent in favour of ratifying an eight-year deal.
HTU President Ingrid Bulmer said it’s been a momentous event.
“We are relieved that the strike has finally ended, but the feelings are mixed because we are losing more than half our newsroom staff, colleagues who are good friends, great journalists and even better people.”
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said “It’s a huge relief to put this behind us after 18 horrible months. I can’t express enough how proud I am of our members who stood together for so long to defend quality jobs and quality journalism.”
He noted that “it’s not a great deal, but it’s the best we could get in the circumstances and it’s better than a month ago. Now we have to try to put this behind us, heal the wounds and bring quality journalism back to the Herald.
“The best thing people can do for our members now is resubscribe and support the Herald. It’s vital that we have good journalism again.”
Of the 61 newsroom members who went out on defensive strike on Jan. 23, 2016, only 27 will return to work at The Chronicle Herald on Tuesday. While half a dozen left for jobs elsewhere as the dispute dragged on, the rest are being laid off.
Mark Lever, CEO of Saltwire Network, the Herald’s owner, said in a statement he is “pleased” the HTU has ratified the contract.
“We want to welcome our award-winning team of almost 30 journalists back to the newsroom. They will be working alongside a team of correspondents located across the province to deliver the local coverage, perspective and insights Nova Scotians want and need.”
The HTU won a key battle on language, securing a seniority clause for layoffs. The company also dropped its insistence on a non-compete provision and other restrictions for those taking severance.
Although the union’s major concession of a five-per-cent wage cut offered early on in bargaining has made it into the agreement, it has been tempered with pay increases over the next seven years.
The amount of severance for the departing staff was a major bone of contention during the fitful negotiations that opened in the fall of 2015. Those leaving will receive enhanced severance of 2.5 weeks of pay for each year of service with a cap of 68 weeks.
Other aspects of the collective agreement that covers reporters, editors, photographers and support staff:
- Local Xpress, the free online news site launched by the HTU one week after the strike began, will be shut down. The company gave up demands to take ownership of the site and its content.
- Work week increases from 35 to 37.5 hours.
- Pension enrolment moves from Herald plan to one run by the International Typographical Union. Employee contributions drop from 6.3 per cent of wages to 2.03 per cent. Company contributions remain at 6.3 per cent.
- No layoffs for two years and new language to protect against layoff beyond then. Jurisdiction language protects against company giving HTU members’ work to Saltwire or non-union Herald employees.
- Vacation and sick leave entitlements reduced.
The tentative deal was reached on Aug. 5 after two days of mediation led by veteran arbitrator William Kaplan, who was appointed by the provincial government in July to help the two sides reach a settlement.
The HTU had made several requests over the past year for an industrial commission of inquiry, which could have led to public hearings into the causes of the dispute.
O’Hanlon told The Canadian Press that an industrial commission had not been used in Nova Scotia in more than 20 years. “This should show the government that, whenever there is any sort of extended strike, they should be using this legislation because again, it accomplished in two days what couldn’t be accomplished in 18 months.”
The HTU estimated that the company saved about $7.5 million in wages and expenses during the work stoppage. The layoffs will reduce the payroll by an estimated $2.9 million. The Herald also spent hundreds of thousands on lawyer fees and to pay private investigators who put peaceful picketers under daily surveillance.
O’Hanlon issued a “huge thanks to all the unions and labour groups who supported us and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars” during the strike. Those labour organizations stood firmly with the HTU, organizing rallies, collecting money and other donations, supporting and publicizing boycotts, and rallying public opinion against companies that continued to advertise in Nova Scotia’s paper of record.