Tuesday, October 28, 2008

StarPhoenix and Leader-Post attack labour; CanWest reportedly recruiting Concordia University journalism students as scabs in the event of a strike

Anti-labour sentiments at the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post hit new levels of absurdity recently when the two newspapers combined for eight stories, including two nasty editorials, totaling nearly 4,500 words regarding the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s (SFL) 2008 convention.

The newspapers took issue with the chilly reception Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Rob Norris received when he addressed delegates on Oct. 23, 2008, at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.

The Leader-Post’s Neil Scott reported that it was during Norris’s speech, when the minister defended controversial changes in labour legislation as being justifiable in order to create “a fair and balanced” labour relations climate in the province, that he was nearly drowned out as most members stood and moved to the back of the hall shouting comments and singing “Solidarity Forever.”

SFL president Larry Hubich “offered at one point to bring order to the session but Norris waved him off and indicated he could deal with the situation.”

Hubich said it was clear Norris wasn’t listening to what the delegates had to say and has also failed to properly consult with labour over the past year.

Hubich said he does not consider the Saskatchewan Party government to be a friend of labour.

“I think they hate unions,” Hubich said. [Norris gets unfriendly reception (Leader-Post, Oct. 24, 2008)]

In the editorial Sask. workers disgraced by SFL antics (StarPhoenix, Oct. 25, 2008) and in columnist Randy Burton’s SFL charm school dropout (StarPhoenix, Oct. 25, 2008), the StarPhoenix accuse Hubich of not trying to intervene even though Scott’s story seems to suggest otherwise.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk was somewhat fairer with his comments saying both sides were to blame.

Mandryk noted that “labour delegates actually had legitimate reasons to be annoyed by Norris’s speech. The speech… offered no olive branch to labour and even went as far as to call the legislation labour is suing the government over as “fair and balanced.””

“Even if Norris was truly not trying to incite labour, he or his speech writer were being exceedingly obtuse in language and approach. This was Norris’s missed opportunity to extend an olive branch -- to offer some concrete commitment to continue to work together to address grievances associated with Bill 5 to find common ground.

“It likely doesn’t help that the Brad Wall government is being cheered on by some friends in the Chamber of Commerce or its right-wing conduits,” Mandryk said. [Labour, Sask. Party equally to blame (Leader-Post, Oct. 25, 2008)]

In a column last fall Mandryk questioned the new government’s honesty after Premier Brad Wall had announced (on Dec. 4, 2007) that the government intended to impose essential services legislation.

Mandryk said that Wall and MLAs Don McMorris, Elwin Hermanson and Rob Norris weren’t being honest with voters.

Prior to the Nov. 2007 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party gave “repeated assurances” that it “saw no reason to legislate essential services and that the unions and governments could work this out at contract time.”

“At best, these Saskatchewan Party MLAs were deliberately unclear leading up to the election when they were seeking the support of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses… At worst, Wall and Norris are still choosing to be duplicitous in their revisionism that the Saskatchewan Party made it clear all along that it might legislate essential services (even if it didn’t bother mentioning it was doing so in its platform),” Mandryk said.

“McMorris told the Leader-Post in a June 28 story, after the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) strike, that an agreement around essential services should be forged between the parties without having to legislate the matter. Former leader Elwin Hermanson, in a July 12 Leader-Post story in the aftermath of HSAS, also stressed that essential service services agreements could be negotiated at contract time and didn't require legislation.

“Wall himself even said the same thing in a Sept. 22 story: “There’s some common sense at play here that simply says, before collective bargaining begins, before the expiration of a contract, both sides (should) sit down and agree to providing essential services,” Wall said.

“He, too, went so far as to say legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services.” [Sask. Party rewrites election script (Leader-Post, Dec. 7, 2007)]

Two weeks later, in his Dec. 21, 2007, column, Mandryk admitted that the government’s proposed labour legislation wasn’t designed or “aimed at creating a “fair and balanced work environment.””

“Especially when it comes to the amendments to the Trade Union Act, it really seems this so-called “fair and balanced” legislation really benefits private-sector employers more than anyone. Make no mistake that this is a right-wing government throwing a bone to the only people demanding the change -- its friends and political donors in the business community who have patiently waited for the past 16 years for the labour pendulum to swing back in their favour,” Mandryk wrote.

“There’s a simple adage that a business gets the union it deserves and that workers don’t unionize unless they have reason to do so.

“There’s no doubt the changes will make it harder to unionize, potentially hurting workers who need protection the most. While the government and the right-wing have slyly framed the issue around the notion that certification votes are more “democratic”, there may now be little that can be done to prevent employers from subtly bullying and intimidating their workers during certifications.

“No, they aren’t the worst labour laws in the country.

“But don’t kid yourself – they’re not really about being fair and balanced, either.” [Not the worst -- nor the best (Leader-Post, Dec. 21, 2007)]

It would have been nice had the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post reminded readers of this in its recent labour-bashing stories.

It should be noted as well that the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post each donated $10,000 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2000.

The two newspapers are owned by Canwest Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of Canwest Global Communications Corp.

The Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan show that last year CanWest Global Communications Corp. president and CEO Leonard Asper contributed $5,000 to the party as did CanWest MediaWorks Inc., also a subsidiary of CanWest Global.

It’s interesting that the SFL incident should warrant so much attention by the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post, yet on July 10, 2008, when Premier Brad Wall bowed to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pressure and withdrew the province’s legal challenge on equalization there were no editorials of outrage or shame. In fact, there was no editorials period. This is despite the fact that Wall had broken a promise he made to the people of Saskatchewan that a Saskatchewan Party government would fight the federal government on the issue. Wall’s betrayal will cost the province hundreds of millions of dollars in lost resource revenue each year. Which is worse, this or booing a cabinet minister during a speech? And people wonder why labour is upset.

The pro-business bias of the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post was evident earlier this year with its coverage of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Humboldt on May 8 & 9, 2008.

The newspapers published three non-hysterical and generally positive stories totaling less than 1,700 words by StarPhoenix business editor Murray Lyons.

The Chamber passed resolutions supporting increased uranium development, foreign ownership of farmland, cutting and simplifying the resource based capital tax and royalty rate regime, rolling back property taxes by transferring the cost of K-12 schools to the provincial level, participation in an interprovincial trade agreement (i.e. TILMA), and congratulating the government for tabling labour Bills 5 and 6, and requesting that the government undertake “comprehensive reviews as soon as possible of the Trade Union Act and the Labour Standards Act to ensure a fair, competitive and balanced labour relations environment in Saskatchewan.”

The Chamber said that while the labour Bills are important “there are many other provisions of the Trade Union Act, as well as the Labour Standards Act, which are anomalous, outdated or create a lack of balance in the workplace.”

On hand for event were Premier Brad Wall and seven of his cabinet ministers.

The premier gave a noon hour speech on May 9 and received a standing ovation, which may have “set the tone for a warm reception with few real criticisms” said Lyons. Naturally, there was no mention of the labour resolution that was passed. [Premier tells Chamber of Commerce property tax is No. 1 priority (Leader-Post, May 10, 2008)]

In a four-page letter dated June 18, 2008, to Chamber president Dale Lemke, AEEL Minister Rob Norris responded to Lemke’s May 15, 2008, letters regarding Chamber resolutions on several matters including a review of current labour legislation.

“I am pleased to have your support for The Trade Union Amendment Act and The Public Service Essential Services Act. This is an exciting time for Saskatchewan and a new era of fairness. The Bills, passed during the spring legislative session, create a path for assured security, economic growth and increased prosperity in our province. Part of our continued plan for ensuring a fair and balanced labour environment that is competitive with other Canadian jurisdictions will include and examination of our labour legislation.

“You can be assured that as we move forward the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s concerns will receive thoughtful consideration. Your thorough work on these matters will be fully considered as we proceed with our mandate. Input from stakeholders such as your organization is vital to ensuring that the best possible legislation can be developed. I look forward to your continued feedback on these important issues,” Norris wrote.

Included in the letter is a handwritten note to Lemke from Norris stating: “P.S. Dale I look forward to our next meeting where we can explore some of these points – and others – in more detail. Sincerely, R.”

And once again, people wonder why labour is so upset.

The folks at CanWest Global appear to dislike unions as much as the Chamber and its friends in the Saskatchewan Party do.

The media giant is embroiled in a contract dispute with its Montreal newspaper The Gazette.

CBC News reported that members of the Montreal Newspaper Guild who work at The Gazette voted in favour of a strike mandate on Sept. 28, 2008.

The mandate was supported by three units, representing about 190 employees in reader sales and service, editorial, and advertising departments.

Workers in reader sales voted 100 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, while editorial employees were 98 per cent in favour, and 59 per cent of advertising employees were in favour.

Unionized employees have been without a contract since June 1. [Gazette workers give union strike mandate (CBC News, Sept. 29, 2008)]

On Oct. 2, 2008, a byline strike and work-to-rule campaign went into effect at The Gazette as staff protested management’s stonewalling in contract negotiations.

According to a Communications Workers of America (Canada) news release CanWest is attempting to eliminate union jurisdiction over work performed by its employees and wants to merge job functions in some departments. [Montreal Newspaper Guild/CWA Canada Local 30111, Oct. 2, 2008)]

Things deteriorated further on Oct. 9, 2008, when Macleans.ca blogger Martin Patriquin reported that CanWest News Service Editor-In-Chief Gerry Nott had “called up the local university and offered to make scabs out of several journalism students.”

“Mr. Nott called Concordia journalism student Dominique Jarry-Shore, a freelancer at the Gazette and Maclean’s, to ask if she would like to file stories to the paper in the event of a strike. Nott, according to Shore, offered her $250 a story. “He told me that if I was concerned about what the striking reporters would think I could get published without a byline,” Jarry-Shore told me today. Jarry-Shore said several of her fellow classmates were also contacted. “He said that if we’re worried about being seen as ’scabs’ we don’t have to get a byline.”

If $250 seems a touch on the low side, well… it’s because it is. “Not only was he asking me to be a scab, he was lowballing me,” Jarry-Shore said. “The irony is, if I were to freelance the same article at the Gazette right now, I would probably be paid double.”

“He also said that stories might end up running in the National Post and other CanWest newspapers,” Jarry-Shore said.

Concordia Department of Journalism Director Mike Gasher, meanwhile, is none too pleased with the soliciting of his young charges.

“It’s come to my attention that some Concordia journalism students have been approached by CanWest to replace regular newsroom staff should there be a strike or lock-out at The Gazette,” Gasher wrote in an email to students. “While that decision is ultimately up to you, I would caution you to think very carefully about accepting such an offer as it is a form of scab labour. Not only could it harm your reputation and the reputation of our department within the journalistic community, it interferes with the ongoing collective bargaining process between Gazette journalists and their employer.” [CanWest gets scabby with it (Macleans.ca, Oct. 9, 2008)]

It makes one wonder just how low CanWest will stoop to get its product out.

Meanwhile, at The Ottawa Citizen, on Sept. 21, 2008, members of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild (ONG) voted to accept a five year collective agreement that provides annual salary increases of 2.5 per cent in the first and last years, and two per cent in the middle three years. With national inflation running at 3.4 per cent, it actually amounts to a wage decrease, a CWA Canada news release said.

The release noted that a CanWest scare tactic appeared to have the desired effect:
The workplace was rife with rumours that the company was preparing to lock out Guild members. Publisher Jim Orban did nothing to dispel that notion.

In a letter addressed to ONG members but circulated to all staff on Friday, Orban said that a labour dispute “could last a long time” because “some 400 of us who do not belong to the Guild will continue to publish and distribute the Citizen, both in print and online, and to serve our readers, our advertisers and our community.”

Orban’s letter said the Sunday vote “could be one of the most important decisions in the history of this newspaper, with serious consequences for you and everyone else who works at the Citizen. As such, I want you to understand clearly what rejection of the final offer will mean, not only for you, but for all of us.

“For you, a rejection of the final offer will not give your bargaining committee a stronger mandate to take to the bargaining table. Bargaining is over. This is a final offer. If you reject the offer, not only will you have given the Guild a strike mandate, you will have given it the authority to move forward with an actual strike, on 48-hours notice, without further consultation with you.” [Ottawa Newspaper Guild/CWA Canada Local 30205, Sept. 22, 2008)]
Here in Saskatchewan a few years ago CanWest seemed to be busy playing the Grinch that tried to steal Christmas.

On Apr. 26, 2002, The Newspaper Guild, a Washington, D.C.-based media union with more than 34,000 members in the United States, Canada and in Puerto Rico, reported that newsroom staffers at the Regina Leader-Post gained a major victory over their employer on the issue of Christmas bonuses.

The Guild news release states: “The Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board ruled in late March that the newspaper had committed an unfair labor practice in December, 2000, when it denied Christmas bonuses to approximately 40 members of the editorial bargaining unit. The newspaper’s non-unionized employees, meanwhile, received bonuses equivalent to seven days pay.

“In its ruling, the SLRB ordered owner CanWest Global to pay employees represented by the Saskatchewan Media Guild the same bonus as had been paid to the non-union employees netting, on average, a bit more than $1,300 per newsroom staffer.

“This wasn’t the first time the company attempted to deny Christmas bonuses to unionized staff, trying to do the same thing in 1998 and 1999, with the same outcome. As a result of these and similar successes, the Guild has succeeded over the past two years in wringing more than $400,000 out of the company in Christmas bonuses, retroactive pay, pension enhancements and interest payments.”

The Leader-Post did not report the story.

You can be darn sure, though, that CanWest president and CEO Leonard Asper isn’t struggling to make ends meet – no matter what time of the year it is. Since 1997 Asper’s salary and bonus has increased tenfold.

According to CanWest Global financial statements Leonard Asper, in fiscal 1997, received a salary of $150,000, a bonus of $56,250 and was granted options to acquire 4,695 Subordinate Voting Shares under the company’s Executive Stock Option Plan.

Asper was appointed CanWest president and CEO effective September 1, 1999.

In fiscal 2007, Asper was paid a base salary of $900,000, a bonus of $1,163,745 and was granted options to acquire 175,000 Subordinate Voting Shares under the company’s Executive Stock Option Plan.

CanWest Global’s revenue in fiscal 1997 was $835,118 million. In fiscal 2007, the company’s revenue was $2,865,282 billion – more than three times what it was ten years ago.

Just think at $250 a pop Concordia journalism student Dominique Jarry-Shore would have to deliver 11,461,128 stories as a scab freelancer with The Gazette in Montreal to make that kind of money.


At 12:10 PM, Blogger Annie O said...

Wow! Finally someone who can tell the truth. As Orwell said, "In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of he indefensible." That would explain why Norris went on delivering his speech when he was obviously not being heard. The smart thing to do would have been, "We don't agree, let's try and work together". I think he was there to intentionally provoke. And people wonder why labour is upset.
And the Sask Party gets free advertising to boot - the birthplace of social democracy? Tommy must be rolling over in his grave.


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