Postmedia’s relentless gutting of its newspapers, which has in some cases turned journalists into janitors at the end of their shifts, is being met with defiance at several Locals that are bargaining new collective agreements.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said employees are in no mood to make sacrifices while the company pays millions of dollars in bonuses to executives and tens of millions to its American hedge fund and other lenders.
“If this was a matter of helping the company survive, most would be happy to do their part and share the pain, but Postmedia papers are making money,” O’Hanlon said.
“It’s just not fair that employees are forced to give up their company pension plan and take a big cut in medical benefits so that Postmedia can put the savings to executive bonuses and unsustainable debt payments.”
Postmedia reported a quarterly profit of $40.3 million on Oct. 19, most of which was attributed to the sale in the summer of its Infomart division. The end of August was also the company’s fiscal year-end, for which it recorded net earnings of $44.8 million.
Staff representative David Wilson, who leads negotiations at CWA Canada Locals, said there is strong pushback against Postmedia’s concession demands in several locations.
Everyone is angry, he said, because Postmedia “is just sucking profits out and investing nothing.”
Members of the Ottawa (Citizen, Sun) and Montreal (Gazette) newspaper guilds have given their bargaining teams strong strike mandates while those at the Windsor Star, who have applied for conciliation, have made it clear they will not accede to company demands.
Talks are also under way at the Sault Star (Local 30746) and North Bay Nugget (Local 30241).
Debbie Cole, president of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild, said the skeleton crews that are running the newspapers are worn down from having to cover for vacationing colleagues and do more with less. Their contract expired two years ago.
“We are all tired,” said Cole, “but we will face this company with strength. Our strength comes from the unity of our members who are struggling to do their jobs with dignity. We all empty our own garbage cans and recycling bins every day. The two part-time building maintenance workers who were laid off are being replaced by reporters, editors and administrative staff.”
“We are united anyway,” she added. “We are committed to keeping these newspapers alive, but it is not easy.”
Wilson said Postmedia is seeking the same concessions that it imposed on non-union staff early this year. The company is insisting on freezing the defined-benefit pension plan, reducing medical benefits, eliminating retiree benefits, and cutting vacation entitlements.