DEBORAH RICHMOND | Web Editor
An organizing drive is under way at the National Post, where editorial staff are seeking protection from Postmedia’s severe austerity measures and possible bankruptcy.
Several employees at the newspaper have formed a committee and are working with CWA Canada organizer Katherine Lapointe to encourage their colleagues to sign a confidential union card pledging their support. They went public today, issuing a news release and revealing a website: nationalpostunion.ca.
“This may seem like an unusual step for National Post employees. Some might even consider this a hell-freezes-over moment. But NP editorial staff have no other realistic option. We need a union. Logic and common sense demands it,” the committee said in a message emailed Sept. 1 to fellow workers.
“There are some strong emotions behind our union drive. Many National Post editorial staffers — award-winning reporters, editors, designers, photographers, videographers and producers who are among the finest media professionals in the country — are angry they’re being forced to take pay cuts while Postmedia executives … are collecting bonuses.
(In November 2016, Postmedia reported that almost $2.3 million in retention bonuses would be paid to its five most senior employees. Three of them have since departed the company.)
“But emotions aside, there is a powerful and practical need to organize a union. We’re not blind to the challenges in the media business or at Postmedia. Times are tough and the industry is in peril. It’s possible Postmedia could be forced to seek bankruptcy protection in the not too distant future. Unionized employees with collective agreements have stronger legal rights in that process. Editorial staff must secure that protection.”
Postmedia, which in July reported a $13-million profit in the third quarter of 2017, managed that largely by cutting 20 per cent of its salary costs through buyouts and layoffs of about 800 workers, as well as drastic cuts to benefit plans and pensions for non-union employees.
Postmedia is demanding similar concessions at five of its daily newspapers where CWA Canada Locals are in bargaining this fall to achieve new contracts. The leaders of those Locals in Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor, have vowed to stand united. Members of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild voted in June to give their bargaining team a strong strike mandate.
In a second message on Sept. 7, the union committee said that National Post management had obviously gotten wind of the organizing effort. Staff were told that last year’s buyout offer was back on the table. “They told you they’ve heard that some of you would have taken that offer the first time if you had known a significant benefit and pension cut was just around the corner. They say they’re listening to your concerns and are here to help address them.
“In reality, this appeal was an attempt to stop us from organizing collectively to address those concerns. That’s because Postmedia knows we will be more effective together.”
The committee noted that “some of you have recently been approached by editors and human resources, offering you raises and other improvements to your working conditions after years of frozen pay and heavier workloads. We think that’s great. We encourage you to accept those perks — and join us in fighting for the rest of your colleagues to get theirs, too.”
“The bottom line is clear,” the earlier message read. “We are far better off with a union than without one. Postmedia has already proven it has no qualms with slashing pay for the non-union workers. A union is the only thing that can check this behaviour.
“As media workers, we believe in what we do, and we believe that we should be valued, treated with respect and fairly compensated.
“We believe that we can reclaim some of our feeling of goodwill and teamwork and a sense of belonging as well as a will to work together to put out a good newspaper.”
The committee said it wants to work with management “in a spirit of integrity and mutual respect to produce the news and improve our workplace.”
It laid out its specific aims:
- Regain a sense of control — and even pride — about who we are and where we work.
- Gain the ability to collectively negotiate to keep and improve pension, health benefits and parental leave.
- Create more consistency in salaries for similar work.
- Have more transparency and communication between management and employees.