Leaders of CWA Canada Locals at newspapers in three provinces will hold a conference call tonight to decide their response to Postmedia’s moves to cut labour costs during the public health crisis.
The company announced today that it will lay off 50 sales people, temporarily cut pay for employees, and permanently close 15 of its 95 community newspapers. The cuts do not affect any of the media union’s 281 members who work at nine of Postmedia’s 15 daily newspapers.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said there was a significant error in the announcement by Postmedia CEO Andrew MacLeod.
“He stated that all employees earning over $60,000 will be subject to a temporary pay reduction. In fact, unionized staff cannot be forced to take a pay reduction; that would have to be agreed to by the union,” O’Hanlon said.
“We will discuss the company’s statement and its request for a five-per-cent temporary pay cut. But it’s a tough sell given that Postmedia has been funnelling tens of millions of dollars to its hedge fund owners and paying millions in executive salaries and bonuses. Last year alone, it paid its top five executives a whopping $7.4 million while laying off staff and freezing worker salaries.”
CWA Canada has Locals at Postmedia papers in Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, Kingston, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Regina.
MacLeod, whose total compensation last year was $2.4 million, said in early April that he would take a 30-per-cent cut to the $820,000 salary portion of that. Other executives and those in management ranks will see salary reductions ranging from eight to 20 per cent.
Postmedia is eligible for the 75-per-cent Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which is intended to avert layoffs or to push employers to recall workers. It is retroactive to March 15 and provides up to $847 a week per employee.
The company will also be able to access labour tax credits under the $595-million journalism support fund, among other government support programs.
MacLeod said today: “While we are very grateful for these programs, no subsidy can offset the huge declines in revenues our industry is experiencing” due to the “unprecedented tidal forces” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advertising revenues at already-beleaguered newspapers across the country plummeted as the emergency unfolded and forced the shutdown of non-essential businesses, sporting and cultural events. Newspapers are heavily dependent on advertising from those sectors of a local economy.
On April 11, Postmedia reported a loss of just over $5 million in its second quarter ending Feb. 29, two weeks before the country headed into lockdown. That was a drop of 7.5 per cent compared with last year. Total revenue for the quarter was $145.7 million, with $110.8 million of that from print advertising and circulation; $28.2 million was derived from its digital businesses.