Jim Slotek Defends Sun Union’s Protest

I was in the middle of replying to an email when I received a very angry message from another Toronto Sun entertainment writer.
On January 31st, I received a lovely email from The Sun’s former TV Critic, Bill Brioux, who wanted to personally thank me for supporting him and other Sun employees who were callously tossed to the curb by Quebecor.  I appreciated his message so much that I posted it in its entirety, along with some comments of my own, on this website in the early hours of February 1st.  (To read “Bill Brioux Responds”, click here.)
Soon after, the story was picked up by 5 different blogs but, sadly, not the mainstream media.  (Check out those links at the bottom of this piece.)  The feedback on these sites was generally positive or just straight reporting.  So, it was only a matter of time before someone offered a different take on the current situation at Sun Media.
I have just heard from Jim Slotek who is very upset about Bill’s remarks and even criticized some of my views, as well.  (More on that in a moment.)
He begins his detailed rebuttal thusly:
“Bill and I have been friends for 20 years, and though he is very anti-union, we have agreed to disagree. But I have to say his comments on your blog hurt. All of a sudden the same colleagues he’s so proud of become ‘the union’ when they decide to do something to show unity.

Here’s a newsflash. ‘The union’ is us.”

I’ve re-read Bill’s message and didn’t detect any “anti-union” feelings on his part.  Rather, like myself, he didn’t feel the “byline removal” scheme cooked up by the unionized Sun workers was all that effective.  I haven’t changed my mind about that.

Jim continues:
“It was Bill’s colleagues, not ‘the union,’ that got together on a Monday night to decide to mark the layoffs with a byline strike and by wearing black. The byline strike was legal. We fought for that right in our contract and got it in writing. And the point of it is not that it accomplishes anything now. It is about this year, in which we will be negotiating a new contract. Going in, any activity in which the staff participates en masse is a warning shot across the bow. We got our first contract only after a 91% strike vote, which should tell anyone that Quebecor is more inclined to be reasonable if they know the staff is behind their colleagues who are doing the negotiating (rather than talking them down).

Again, it is not about you or any other reader. If they notice, fine and great. The ones we want to notice are our bosses.”

But the question remains, did they notice?  And will it make a difference when it comes down to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement?  I don’t think so and I’m not alone.

Furthermore, I remember a time when Sun employees didn’t have to negotiate with their bosses in order to maintain job satisfaction, whether it was raises or any other issue.  There was a reason The Toronto Sun used to be one of the Top 100 companies to work for in this country.  Not anymore.
I have no idea why Jim brings up the legality of the byline protest.  That was never the issue.  The issue was whether or not it was effective.  Even after reading his entire message, I still don’t think it’s going to give the union much leverage in their dealings with Quebecor.
I’ve have always felt that fighting a company like Quebecor without the constant and consistent support of the public is an enormous mistake.  Sun readers are well known for their loyalty and strong support.  Why exclude them from the process?  Many of them are probably scratching their heads wondering what the hell is going on with their newspaper.  Getting the public on your side would greatly help the union’s position.  When Quebecor’s bottom line is affected, that’s pressure.
As for Quebecor being more reasonable to deal with when there’s more unity in the newsroom, that’s a laugh.  Did unionizing the workforce in 2003 save any of the jobs that have been axed by Quebecor since then?  Exactly.  The union is powerless to stop the internal bleeding.  Besides, how reasonable can the company be if Sun TV workers themselves have been waiting a year for Quebecor to respond to their demands for a new contract?  Quebecor has made it clear it doesn’t want to deal with the union, it wants cheap, non-unionized labour.  That’s why SONG has taken their case to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.  I wish them well in their fight but deep down, I feel it’s a lost cause.
More from Jim:
“Your own comments are naive. Pundits? Editors? You expect them to write what they want and the company will pay for the privilege of being trash-talked on its own newsprint? (Never mind the fact that editors are management). Other media? Uh, Dennis, the Star is going into its own set of negotiations with management that wants to cut costs. You expect the Star to take shots at a competitor for doing what it’s about to do?

Of course as far as the Sun is concerned the byline strike et al ‘never happened.’ Thank you, you must have taken the red pill and are beginning to see the corporate world as it really is.” 

Naive?  Is he kidding me?  Perhaps, he missed John Cosway’s remarks on The Toronto Sun Family Blog where the former Sun reporter (who worked there for 19 years) agrees with what I wrote on January 29th

Before the ouster of founding publisher Doug Creighton in 1992, Sun pundits and reporters usually didn’t have to worry about whether their opinions and reports would cost them their jobs, regardless of the subject matter.  (Debate was encouraged.  Readers loved reading columnists take shots at each other in print.)  As John Cosway pointed out on his site, you’d have to really screw up (ex: libel someone) in order to lose your gig.  (I can think of only one exception in 1989.  Peter Worthington wrote a piece that questioned the seriousness of the newspaper.  Creighton fired him.)
The Sun used to pride itself on exposing its inner workings, good and bad.  Those days are long gone.  Jim might consider such a thing “trash talking”.  I don’t.  Readers need to know what’s going on behind the scenes.  Maintaining a collective silence is not helpful.  No wonder its circulation has dropped between 25 and 30% since Quebecor took over.  That special insight is missing in action.
Furthermore, Quebecor owns other interests besides Sun Media.  For instance, they own TVA, a french-language channel that also makes movies.  Their most recent release was the 2006 remake Black Christmas which got a terrible review from The Toronto Sun’s own Bruce Kirkland (one star out of five).  Last time I checked, he’s still writing movie and DVD reviews, among other pieces, for The Sun. 
As for The Star, competitive newspapers always take shots at their rivals, especially when they’re down.  The Star, The Globe & Mail, The National Post and even CBC.ca have all covered the endless rounds of layoffs at Sun Media while frequently downplaying their own staff changes.  And, indeed, when The Sun’s rivals go through their own tough times, those stories get covered in their newspapers.  This isn’t new.
As for the thinly-veiled and sarcastic Matrix reference, it falls flat.  I stand by what I’ve written about the byline protest.
Jim concludes his message with this:
“We are going to fight, and we’ll do it our way. And the last thing we need is anybody kicking us when we’re down, telling us how useless what we’re doing is without offering alternatives.

Jim Slotek
One of 13 people who put his job on the line in the first place to unionize this place.”

In my case, I have offered an alternative solution:  a divorce from Quebecor.  Furthermore, I have never disparaged the union in any way.  If anything, I’ve been extremely sympathetic on numerous occasions.  (Here is an example.) 
I wish the Sun’s unionized workers well in their fight with Quebecor, as I’ve always done, but I stand by every word I have written on this matter on this website.
I appreciate Jim’s feedback but he hasn’t persuaded me to see his side of things.
Fading To Black 
Toronto Sun Family 
The Blogging Journalist 
The New Media Literacy Project
Canadian Magazines
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
5:07 p.m.
Published in: on February 6, 2007 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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