CWA Canada and its largest Local are going to bat for member Richard Zussman, who was fired by the CBC for allegedly breaching rules governing activities outside of work.
The Canadian Media Guild (CMG ), which represents thousands of employees at the public broadcaster, has taken the case to arbitration and is seeking a ruling from labour mediator Vince Ready.
Zussman, 34, who was the B.C. provincial affairs reporter, based in Victoria, has co-authored a book about the defeat of Christy Clark’s Liberal government and the rise to power of NDP Premier John Horgan. It is to be published this spring.
CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in a statement that Zussman’s employment “was not terminated simply for co-authoring a book.”
He said the decision was “based on the findings of a third-party investigation,” which determined that the reporter had violated CBC’s code of conduct, conflict-of-interest rules and the collective agreement with the CMG.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon called it a “baffling overreaction by CBC management.”
“Why on Earth would they fire a political journalist for writing a book about politics?” O’Hanlon asked. “They’ve somehow managed the perplexing feat of turning good press into bad press.”
“The union remains solidly behind Richard Zussman and we will continue to devote all resources necessary to protect our members from disproportionate or arbitrary discipline.”
The CMG, noting that members had expressed concern about the situation and “possible overreach by management,” said the collective agreement permits members who work at the CBC to “engage in activities, such as voluntary and/or paid work outside their hours of work …
“There are some restrictions, namely that employees may not work with the competition; that they may not, without permission, exploit their connection with the CBC; and that they cannot take part in activities that will adversely affect their work. Additionally, recognized on-air personnel must discuss any outside activities before engaging in them.”
The CMG said management had, in January 2015, instituted a blanket policy prohibiting all paid outside appearances by on-air journalists. The guild has grieved that policy and plans to pursue the issue during bargaining in 2018.
Zussman, a videojournalist who had previously worked for CityTV in Edmonton and Sun News Network in Vancouver, is described by other journalists as a hard-working and popular legislative reporter. He co-wrote the book about B.C. politics with Vancouver Sun reporter Rob Shaw.
Premier Horgan, in an exclusive interview with Mike Smyth, a columnist with The Province, said the firing of Zussman earlier this month was “outrageous. The guy’s a professional and he’s being treated very, very poorly by an organization that clearly doesn’t understand his value to them.
“They’re burning a very useful asset. As a business decision, it’s a bad one.”
Smyth reported that he was told “Zussman’s sin is that he did not secure proper written approvals from senior CBC management to co-write the book.”
Horgan told Smyth that “For the CBC to come to a conclusion that working as a political reporter on the political story of the year, if not the decade, in British Columbia was somehow diminishing the role of the CBC is ridiculous.
“To be punished for that just staggers me. I don’t understand it.”