Sun, 06/25/2017 - 13:20

Posted by H.G. Watson on March 10, 2017

By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor

Postmedia has made substantial cuts to non-unionized employee benefits, including axing its employment assistance program and eliminating maternity and parental leave top-up payments.

A memo released on March 9 details the changes for both full-time and part-time staff.

“Across Postmedia we currently have numerous and varied benefit programs, pension plans and other human resources policies like vacation that apply to various employee groups,” the memo reads. “In order to both achieve harmony across our operations and to ensure the affordability of these programs going forward, we are making changes that will apply to everyone. Once complete, Postmedia will have a harmonized program that is aligned across the organization.”

Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia’s spokesperson, told J-Source in an email that “in order to maintain the affordability of our benefits programs, changes were necessary.” She did not have an expected cost savings number as a result of the changes.

“The new benefits plan is designed to provide consistent coverage to all employees across our operations. That will involve changes to existing programs that affect different people differently,” she added.

Among the benefits cut are retiree benefits for employees who retire on or after Aug. 31, 2017; access to counselling through an employment assistance program; and top-ups on maternity and parental leave, effective Aug. 31, 2017.

According to National Post investigative journalist Zane Schwartz on Twitter, vacation time has also been cut.

Changes are also being made to the employees’ pension plan. “We will be ceasing pension accruals for employees under all of Postmedia’s existing DB pension plans effective the last pay in August 2017,” reads the document outlining changes. Employees will be able to enroll in a defined contribution plan, with the company’s contribution to the plan capped at three per cent.

Unionized employees are not affected by the changes, though Gelfand said that timing and program details would be discussed during contract negotiations.

Martin O’Hanlon, the president of CWA-Canada, told J-Source he is concerned about whether Postmedia may agitate for similar cuts in upcoming collective agreement negotiations at Postmedia’s unionized newspapers. “If Postmedia tries to exact these concessions from unionized staff—take away our pension and grossly reduce our benefits— they are going to have a battle on their hands.”

The Ottawa Citizen, Kingston Whig-Standard, Windsor Star and Regina Leader-Post are all in or close to starting new collective agreement negotiations, according to O’Hanlon. Like many Postmedia papers across the chain, those four newspapers have been significantly impacted by layoffs and buyouts over the course of the last 12 months.

O’Hanlon said it is offensive that Postmedia has made these cuts five months after executives were given about $2.3 million total in retention bonuses. “They don’t have money to continue their pension and their benefits for their staff? It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “They’ve got their priorities all wrong.”

Paul Godfrey, Postmedia’s CEO and President, told Toronto Life in February that hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, which has an equity stake in Postmedia, wanted, “assurances that key employees, me included, would stay.” Since then, two of Postmedia executives who received bonuses have left the company.

H.G. Watson can be reached at hgwatson@j-source.ca or on Twitter.

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