CWA Canada: Blaming unions for Postmedia job cuts ‘dishonest’

2020.05.27

Postmedia CEO Andrew MacLeod was “being misleading at best” when he blamed unions for the latest round of staff cuts, CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon says.

In a memo to staff today, MacLeod said the company is going to cut 40 positions from its unionized ranks after CWA Canada and Unifor rejected a management proposal that workers earning over $60,000 a year take a temporary five-per-cent salary reduction.

“Unfortunately … we were unable to find mutually agreeable common ground on alternative cost reduction measures,” MacLeod wrote.

But O’Hanlon disputed MacLeod’s claims: “The company never really tried to negotiate with us in good faith. They presented the wage cut as the only option and they ignored our offer to buy ads to help support the company. We might also have been able to work out a job-saving arrangement like some of our Locals did.”

The temporary wage cut would have saved about $100,000 from the CWA Canada members who earn over $60,000 at nine Postmedia newspapers.

“We offered instead to buy $100,000 in ads in return for a two-year, no-layoff guarantee,” O’Hanlon said. “They never even had the decency to respond. So to try to blame the union is pretty disingenuous.”

“Even despite the snub, our Ottawa Local is spending $25,000 on ads in the Ottawa Citizen and Sun to try to help the company out.”

The latest cuts will affect 10 CWA Canada members at Locals in Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston and Windsor. In some cases, the Local has been able to negotiate voluntary departures in place of layoffs. Those who are laid off will receive severance pay as set out in their collective agreements.

Postmedia said on May 8 that it expected to qualify for at least $20.3 million in emergency wage subsidies. The company had applied for $7.3 million to cover March 15 to April 11, and was expecting up to $15 million more to cover until June 6.

MacLeod said today the company’s revenues are down more than 30 per cent, making it 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.

Postmedia said on April 28 it would lay off 50 sales people (no CWA Canada members affected) and permanently close 15 community newspapers in Ontario and Manitoba.

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.

O’Hanlon noted that, even after temporarily giving up 30 per cent of his salary, MacLeod could still get $2 million this year.

“Plus, it is entirely possible the company will boost his compensation when things get back to normal, but they wouldn’t do that for unionized staff,” O’Hanlon added.

The company will also be able to access labour tax credits under the $595-million journalism support fund, among other government support programs. The federal tax credit would allow newspapers to claim up to 25 per cent of the wages paid to journalists or other eligible employees.

Advertising revenues at already-beleaguered newspapers across the country plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic 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.

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