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Further details of the latest round of meetings between the Halifax Chronicle Herald and its striking editorial union show newspaper bosses want about half of unionized positions eliminated.
The Halifax Typographical Union (HTU), which represents 57 newsroom staff from the Nova Scotia daily, met with representatives of company management last Friday to present a possible collective agreement hammered out with the help of a mediator in the previous days.
The meeting was the first communication between the two parties since a few days into the strike, which began on January 23.
Frank Campbell, HTU vice president, told rabble talks broke off on Wednesday after management rejected the union offer, and extended a counter-offer with an agreement seeking even deeper salary and staff cuts than the one it made in January.
The company's decision to counter-offer also seemed contrary to the agreement between the HTU and the mediator, he said.
"The stuff we presented them was a package deal -- they were supposed to say yes or no."
Campbell said the offer from the HTU addressed three key areas of contention.
It also tabled concessions the union never anticipated it would give.
"We changed direction on the pension plan -- we had a defined benefit pension plan with the company and we made some suggestions about moving into a different plan, which they basically wanted from the start."
"The other was [around] a production hub. We offered different salaries for people starting there." Those working in the hub would undertake similar editing roles to what is already being carried out in the newsroom, however, all positions would fall under new job categories, he said.
"The third thing was language on seniority. We presented them with language that was similar to The Globe and Mail clause, which they kept referring to through all our different talks."
"They decided they didn't like The Globe and Mail clause, they were okay about the pension plan but they didn't want to make their contributions the size we had expected them to be, and they wanted the hub outside the union," Campbell said.
Management wanted changes that would have resulted in 26 of HTU's members being laid off, and an hourly pay rate reduction of 20 per cent. The proposed layoffs include 18 senior editing positions. It is not known where the remaining eight layoffs would have come from, Campbell said.
This would leave 31 members -- reducing the current size of the union by 46 per cent.
Before the strike, the HTU had 61 members, however four people have since taken up other employment.
Following the unsuccessful negotiations, the HTU -- local 30130 of the Communications Workers of America-Canada -- held a vote on Thursday, which resulted in unanimous membership support for the bargaining team, Campbell said.
"Despite being on strike for four months, everybody is still in the same corner.
"We have no other real choice unless we accept a company proposal that is worse than the one we were presented four months ago," he said.
Management at the Chronicle Herald, which has brought on replacement newsroom workers during the strike, did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Local Xpress, the HTU's online news outlet set up during the strike, continues to grow. About two weeks ago, the union announced it had partnered with digital media company Village Media to expand the site. Businesses can now advertise with Local Xpress, and it features national news, weather forecasts and obituaries.
No further plans for negotiations have been made.
Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.
Photo: flickr/Jon S
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