Contracts, outcry reduce forced layoffs at some Postmedia papers



UPDATED 2023-03-21

CWA Canada members who work at nine Postmedia newspapers are still reeling from the latest cost-cutting measures although collective agreements have provided some buffers. In Montreal, an outcry in the anglophone community led the company to scale back newsroom layoffs it had planned for The Gazette.

The first of a one-two punch was the announcement on Jan. 24 that the chain, which employs about 650 journalists, would lay off 11 per cent of its editorial staff. Less than a week later came another devastating blow: sale of the Windsor Star’s office and printing plant, with the loss of about 75 media jobs as production of the 135-year-old newspaper shifted to facilities in Toronto and London as of March 3.

Two weeks later, another axe fell, with 120 advertising sales staff on Postmedia’s chopping block. That included about a dozen CWA Canada members at five Locals and eliminated sales staff entirely at the Kingston Whig-Standard, North Bay Nugget, and the Star in Sault Ste Marie. The same fate for the Sudbury Star was stymied because the Northern Ontario Newspaper Guild (Local 30232) has jurisdiction language in its contract that prevented layoffs of three sales staff. Montreal, which has 11 members in advertising, was to lose one sales position but that has since been rescinded.

News of the latest cuts to its already bare-bones operations has left staff “totally demoralized and disillusioned,” said CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon. “I always think we’ve hit rock bottom, and then they find a new bottom. I just don’t know how you can run a successful media company with this level of staffing.”

O’Hanlon added that the cuts only make the fight against disinformation and misinformation harder, are bad for democracy and mean that “Postmedia is now treading water to survive.”

Shawn Bussey of the Windsor Typographical Union (CWA Canada Local 30553), which represents 43 inserters in the mailroom, said they were stunned by this development. The Local will cease to exist this spring, once the members’ employment is terminated.

“It’s difficult to put into words everything that the Windsor Star means to myself, our membership, and the community. Our Local has been a proud part of the Windsor Star for just over 115 years, and March 3 will be an emotional day for our membership.

“We may consist of three different locals (other staff at the Windsor Star are represented by Unifor), but we are a family,” said Bussey. “We have made many close friendships and take pride in who we are and what we produce.”

Bussey said the WTU leaned on its collective agreement (CA) to negotiate pensionable pay continuance for layoff notice and severance period, as well as benefits. “We did really well in getting the best payouts possible for our members.”

(In addition, any member of CWA Canada who becomes jobless due to layoff, buyout or early retirement is eligible for a subsidy of up to $500 for an education/training course.)

Other CWA Canada Locals at Postmedia newspapers also turned to their CAs to exert some degree of control over how layoffs are handled.

The CAs “greatly reduced the number of forced layoffs by requiring the company to accept volunteers,” said O’Hanlon.

“And the CAs require severance pay far above the statutory requirement. The severance pay differs in each CA both in terms of weeks per year and maximum payout. Some cap at 52 weeks, some higher.”

Ron Carroll, president of the Montreal Newspaper Guild (Local 30111), said the uproar in the community and outpouring of support for The Gazette’s journalists was heartening. It caused Postmedia to reduce from 10 to six the number of newsroom staff to be cut, and to set up an 11-member advisory council comprising business and community leaders that aims to rally subscription and advertising support for the 245-year-old newspaper.

Prior to the cuts, the MNG had 35 members in editorial, down from 42 last March and a far cry from the peak of 275 in 1990 or even the 155 in 2010 (the year in which Postmedia Network acquired the Canwest newspaper chain), which dropped to 100 by 2016.

The Ottawa Newspaper Guild (Local 30205), with 26 members in editorial — The Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun combined — as of the end of January, was to lose four in that department. In March 2022, the ONG had 37 members in editorial.

The number of ONG members in editorial positions at the Citizen went from 190 in 1990 to 119 in 2010, then 78 in 2012, two years after the Postmedia takeover. By 2016, a year after Postmedia acquired 175 Sun Media newspapers from Quebecor and merged newsrooms in four cities — cutting 90 jobs in the process, including 12 editorial positions in Ottawa — the ONG’s editorial membership was 81.

Barb Pacholik, president of the Saskatchewan Media Guild (Local 30199), said the Regina Leader-Post newsroom is in a state of upheaval. While the SMG had 15 members in editorial last March, it’s now down to 11. That is after Postmedia required one voluntary layoff, which it got, and two other staff quit, which left the paper with no sports department although there’s a plan to replace at least one person if the hiring gets approved.

“We’ve been hearing from readers wondering why there is no longer local sports on our pages,” said Pacholik. With no word from Postmedia on whether and when certain positions will be filled, “The stress on people is palpable.”

On top of that, printing of the paper moved last month from Saskatoon to Estevan, forcing reporters and editors to meet a 1 p.m. deadline.

Today’s numbers represent a steep decline in the SMG membership, from 106 in 1990 to 35 in 2010, 30 in 2016, and 16 in 2020.

While their CA got the person who took the voluntary layoff a better severance deal than what the company was offering, “Sadly, no contract can save a sinking ship. It just hopefully provides a life raft,” said Pacholik.

Staffing at many of the smaller dailies is skeletal, with several no longer even having a business office in the community.

The Sudbury Local currently has a total membership of nine working at the Star, with five of them in editorial. In 1990, there were 36 members in editorial; that number dropped to nine by 2016.

The North Bay Newspaper Guild (Local 30241) currently has a total membership of 14 working at The Nugget, with only two in editorial. The total was 20 in April 2020, but the membership would have been more than double that 10 years ago, said President Glen Couvrette.

The Kingston Typographical Union (Local 30204) had 55 members in editorial positions at the Whig-Standard in 1990. That number dwindled to 14 by 2016 and the paper is now down to seven reporters.

In October 2021, when the Sault Ste Marie Typographical Union (Local 30746) ratified a new collective agreement, the 12 members worked in editorial, advertising and reader sales and service at the Sault Star. Total membership was 19 in April 2020; that dropped to 17 in July last year.

The Sault Local had 10 editorial positions in 1990. That number dropped to eight in 2010, then five by 2016.

By March 2022, four multimedia journalists all worked remotely as there is no longer a physical newsroom or non-union editors, and report to Sudbury. The most recent layoffs leave one remaining position in circulation. Also last year, Postmedia reduced publication of the print edition to three days a week: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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