It’s hard to believe there was a time before this incredible economic fear set in. But looking back over this past year– especially the part of the year that preceded this mess – is a remarkable adventure in union advocacy that worked, and management styles that appear to be working too.
Because the CBC is such a major employer both in this union and even the country, the fact that Hubert Lacroix appears to be steering the Corporation and its unions to a new peace deserves a huge mention in a year-end union retrospective. Lacroix began his term as president of the CBC the first day of January this year. Unlike his predecessor, he didn’t seem worried about the so-called enemies in either the private sector or parliament. He didn’t seem to ascribe to the apocalypse theory. His mission for year one was – people. Us. He didn’t just talk about “putting people first”; he focused on changing a management culture. He made high level managers accountable for solving industrial relations and staffing problems.
And we now already have a tentative collective agreement at CBC to replace the one that expires next March. As well, since the year began, dozens of grievances have been resolved and the list of cases destined for arbitration– which was once at over one hundred — is down to less than ten.
I think the approach is especially well-timed for a tough economy. It’ll take all hands on deck– working together– to get through this. The respectful relationship we see at the Canadian Press, which takes a lot of work on both sides, is similar and will be vital in the months ahead.
This is where the union advocacy comes in. In the past two years, the Guild has spent time and effort convincing the CRTC that local news in Canada is in jeopardy and needs help. In October, the CRTC announced the creation of a new fund for broadcasters to produce more local and regional programming– to the tune of $60 million! (See the story in the issue.) This is found money for any broadcaster who ramps up local news in markets of less than one million viewers. The CRTC linked its decision to CMG proposals.
At the same time, our committees at all our branches have had real success in the bread-and-butter work of ensuring we have good contracts and making sure they’re enforced effectively. We got new contracts at CW Television (formerly Alliance Atlantis), TVOntario, tfo, Agence-France Presse. At the CBC, a committee on temps has worked with management to convert dozens of people from temp or contract to permanent. This has taken solid, diligent, detailed work.
Also at the CBC, there’s been a historic agreement to share any pension surplus in the future. We believe the CBC may be one of the only employers in North American to have such a voluntary agreement with its unions. That’s a sign of the new times, but also the result of intensive, detailed work by a joint union-management committee.
And it’s not all unseen committee work. More than two hundred CMG delegates convened in Toronto for our biannual convention in May. The convention approved a $5 a month dues levy for a year, which is in effect now, and a referendum on removing the $1,500 cap on our dues in increments over a ten-year period. That referendum will be held early in the new year. And just last month, the National Executive Committee approved the hire of a new staff representative who will be primarily responsible for equity and human rights issues; which follows a resolution from the Calgary convention in 2006. That hire will take place around spring 2009.
In some ways we’re pushing back against all the doom and gloom by contemplating a hire. We know media companies are in terrible shape, as a whole. Canwest eliminated 560 jobs in November; 23 of them were held by Guild members at CW Television. Huge media conglomerates such as the Tribune Co. and the New York Times are vulnerable and seeking various forms of protection. A group of CMG leaders will be attending a conference on the Future of the Industry in Baltimore, home of one of the threatened newspapers. We face tough challenges going forward, and we’ll need every bit of the cooperation and advocacy that we developed this year.
Lise Lareau is the national president of the Canadian Media Guild.