By Kat Eschner
The 55 Halifax Chronicle Herald employees who walked off the job on January 23, 2016 are now in their second year of striking.
But in a release dated Feb. 9, the president of the union that represents them said only eight days of that time have been spent at the bargaining table — and six of them in the last few weeks.
And now the talks have broken off again.
“This company needs to stay at the table and negotiate,” said Ingrid Bulmer, president of the Halifax Typographical Union, in the release.
At issue: the union says that while it takes issue with several items in the proposed contract, the company said it wants striking workers to accept the deal as-is and doesn’t want to discuss individual issues.
The HTU’s chief negotiator also appeared on a Nova Scotia radio show this morning to talk about the dispute:
"We have been so darn reasonable with this employer," -Dave Wilson the #ChronicleHerald union lead negotiator "But they want more and more."— The Rick Howe Show (@TheRickHoweShow) February 10, 2017
J-Source has reported on the ongoing strike since it began. Here’s what’s happened so far:
The initial decision to strike came after the Chronicle Herald asked employees to accept a heavily rewritten contract that the union members couldn’t stomach. It contained changes to their collective agreement, wage and job cuts, and increased working hours, according to the union.
“Every single thing they are proposing has been done at another newspaper somewhere,” Kelly Toughill, director of the School of Journalism at University of King’s College, which is in Halifax, told J-Source at the time.
None of the changes were novel, she said, but “what’s novel is that they are taking all of the different cuts that have been proposed at other newspapers and putting them all together in a single package and asking for them all at once.”
In a January 23 memo — the same day the strike began — the Chronicle Herald’s company president, Mark Lever, told employees that 18 staff had been laid off.
“It is not our desire to have you on the picket line,” he said in that memo. “At the same time, it is important that we operate with a shared understanding, which is why the most recent collective agreement presented to the union will be put into place right away.”
Throughout the strike, the company has maintained the position that the news business is changing and they have to change with it.
The strike is now entering its thirteenth month, the longest strike in Nova Scotia in a decade, CBC reports.
As the strike moved into its second week, on Jan. 30, the Chronicle Herald staff started Local Xpress, a news website where they cover a range of local issues and events. The Local Xpress is now partnered with Village Media and has its own Patreon account.
“Xpress is a play on ex (ie, former)-press, which is what we all could have become if not for our website, which came online about a week after the strike began Jan. 23,” reads their Patreon page.
On the corporate side, J-Source wrote about the ongoing silence of the Chronicle Herald’s CEO, Mark Lever. The newspaper also began hiring scabs.
The disputing parties came to the bargaining table in early June, 2016, almost five months after the strike began. But talks quickly broke down, with the union saying that the company was offering a worse proposal than four months ago.
“We presented a concessionary offer to the employer last week that should have piqued the employer’s interest,” HTU’s lead negotiator David Wilson said. “It had concessions we never anticipated we’d give, and yet it was rejected.”
Six months into the strike, J-Source reported, union members had lived life and struggled with health problems on the picket line. A baby was born, one videographer went to hospital with what turned out to be a stroke and a feature writer found herself suffering “a rare and vicious autoimmune disease,” wrote Mary Ellen MacIntyre, who was on the picket line herself.
“Five reporters and editors have moved on to full-time jobs with other organizations, vowing to never return to the newsroom where they had worked for years, in some cases for decades,” she wrote.
J-Source reports: “After 10 months on strike, the union representing journalists at the Halifax Chronicle Herald launched a complaint to the Nova Scotia Labour Board, alleging unfair bargaining practices, which the company denies,” wrote Mitchell Thompson.
A union rep told J-Source that he believed management’s real goal was to bust the union.
The ongoing dispute took a slightly hopeful turn in November-December 2016 and both sides suggested they might return to the bargaining table — although, CBC wrote, many of the now-55 on the picket lines wouldn’t return to their old jobs.
"There are some layoffs planned and the union would be downsize considerably,” Frank Campbell, vice-president of the HTU, told CBC.
On the strike’s one-year anniversary, Ian Scott, chief operating officer of the Chronicle Herald, told CBC that the labour dispute was “ongoing and a pain for everyone” on both sides. “We’re trying to get it resolved and not do media interviews about it,” he said.
CBC also published interviews from the picket line with two of the strikers on their one-year strike-a-versary.
Kat Eschner is a freelance journalist and the former editor of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Find her and her work on Twitter @KatEschner