Lever was not at the negotiating table that day. Neither was Sarah Dennis. In fact, Wilson had never met Lever and only encountered Sarah once, in passing, at the time of the signing of the 1999 contract. But Wilson certainly knew the Herald’s designated negotiator: Grant Machum, a Halifax-based management lawyer whose web page boasted he had been “successfully advising employers on operating union free for over 20 years.”
Machum’s starting position was clear. It was also, he told them, his ending position. Although the newspaper would go through the bargaining process — including conciliation, if necessary — it would not change its offer. The union, he told Wilson, could accept what was offered, or “you’ll be in the snowbank in January.”
“Graham Dennis,” he added in his opening comments to the full union negotiating team, “isn’t around to save you anymore.”
For the record, Machum says “the words attributed to me are not correct,” but the larger record is also clear. Before January ended, the paper’s reporters and editors were in the snowbank, even after the union had put what it called “serious concessions on the table.”
Concessions offered by Herald newsroom staff in January 2016:
• an immediate five per cent wage cut across the board;
• no wage increases for the first two years;
• a 25 per cent reduction in starting salaries for new reporters and photographers;
• a severance cap;
• reducing the reporters’ mileage rate by 17 per cent;
• and, cutting back on vacation days.
Although the union claimed its concessions would “save the Chronicle Herald and take away from bargaining unit employees millions of dollars over the life of the collective agreement,” management “rejected outright” the offer.
The journalists then voted virtually unanimously to give their union a strike mandate, but the union said it wasn’t planning to walk off the job (it was expecting to be locked out) until the company forced its hand by announcing plans to unilaterally impose its original, un-agreed-to contract proposal on the newsroom until a final deal was reached. That contract, of course, included the provisions that would have effectively gutted their union’s future bargaining power and resulted in the layoff of nearly one-third of their members.
The editors and reporters walked away from their terminals at midnight January 23, 2016, and have been on strike ever since.
There have been just two abortive attempts at bargaining since then, in May and November. As part of those after-last-call sessions, the union even ceded more of its existing contract, agreeing to negotiate a non-union production hub that will eliminate another dozen union jobs.
After the most recent failed attempt to re-start negotiations in early November, the union — which has also unsuccessfully asked the Nova Scotia government to become involved — filed an unfair labour practices complaint with the provincial labour relations board, accusing the company of “bargaining to impasse proposals that are designed to be rejected,” and asking the board to order Herald management back to the table to actually negotiate a contract. A decision on that complaint is pending as of this writing.
And so it has gone. And keeps on going…