Tough Negotiations Ahead For Sun TV Union

The Canadian Media Guild is bracing for another round of tough negotiations later this month with the higher-ups at Sun TV, the struggling Toronto station now owned by Quebecor.  In its latest online posting at the official CMG website the union gives its members ample warning of what’s likely to come during the next two weeks.
Last January, the union formally asked Federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn to hire a conciliator to help the two sides reach an agreement.  Blackburn offered two:  Sheri King and Carol Wall.  Their appointments will both expire on March 27th.  That leaves a grand total of 12 days to resolve this matter.  The question remains:  is it enough time?
The CMG notes in its latest posting that the next round of negotiations will take place on March 26th and 27th.  That’s nearly two weeks from now which is cutting things awfully close.  They’re already anticipating “areas of disagreement” during these forthcoming bargaining sessions which “will be difficult to negotiate”.
What are the likely sticking points with management?  Well, for one, the union wants “improved wages for Sun TV employees and a pension plan”.  They’re also worried about union-busting and the thinning of their already reduced workforce.  One of their concerns is that outspoken employees (not unlike those at Sun Media) will be the first to go in the event of a future downsizing move by the company.  (Maryanna Lewyckyj, the forthright former Unit Chair now Sixth Vice-President for SONG (Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild), lost her job at The Toronto Sun during yet another round of layoffs earlier this year.) 
In an attempt to protect as many jobs as possible, should the company continue to reduce them (which seems likely if history is a reliable guide), the union is insistent on having Sun TV management recognize “employees’ length of service”.  They argue that recognizing workers with seniority is “an objective way of determining the order of layoffs, if they are necessary, and as a factor in the case of promotions and the filling of vacancies.  This is standard in our industry.”  But wouldn’t it better to use the criteria of excellence in place of “years of service”?  I’ve never understood the seniority argument.
According to the union, establishing a collective bargaining agreement with a company normally takes quite a bit of time.  But long-suffering Sun TV employees have been more than patient in trying to reach a deal.  As of this writing, they’ve been waiting more than 15 months to resolve this matter.  The union blames the needless delays on Quebecor buying the station from CHUM (which already owns too many Toronto channels, hence the sale), “a new absentee owner” (Quebecor again) “whose focus is the Quebec market and a local management that has refused to devote the necessary time to negotiations”.
The union further notes that “[a] deadline for the deal” to actually happen “will be set shortly”.  They argue that “setting a firm deadline is the only way to force the two sides to take bargaining seriously.”  (Wasn’t March 27th already established as the deadline?)
As was noted in this space on December 14th last year, “Why is this union wasting time negotiating a contract for its members with a company that has no idea how to efficiently run an English-language TV station?  Is it really worth spending almost a year trying to reason with people who can’t make payroll?  Why work for a company that has never had a show in the Top 30?  It’s lunacy.”
It was also argued here that the union has “to look in the mirror and realize that they’re not welcome in the company.  It’s time to cut their losses, kill off Sun TV and help find jobs for their members in places that will actually welcome them.”
The union notes in its latest posting that it has “helped employees who were dismissed, including negotiating a cash settlement for an employee who was fired unfairly…”, which is a rare positive in a story filled with endless negatives.
But my original argument stands.  It remains futile to push for higher salaries, a pension plan and seniority preferences when the status of Sun TV appears very grim.  Why continue to fight for jobs and respect in a place that is unlikely to survive?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 15, 2007
10:49 p.m.
Published in: on March 15, 2007 at 10:55 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Your post refers to the concept of using the “criteria of excellence”, rather than seniority, to determine who should stay and who should go. The problem is that excellence is a completely subjective thing. You’d be surprised how many long-time, well-respected employees in many industries are somehow (magically?) found to be less “excellent” than their younger, less well-paid counterparts. A system that doesn’t rely on an objective standard – like seniority – is an invitation for management to cherry-pick its favourite employees, regardless of their actual competence or capacity to do the work.
    The Canada Labour Code sets out a framework for the process from negotiations to conciliation to mediation to open period. The appointment of conciliators, and potentiallly of a mediator, is meant to encourage the two opposing sides to reach an agreement without either side resorting to a work stoppage (i.e. a strike by unionized employees or a lockout by management).
    I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusions as to the Guild’s role at Sun TV. Although management may not welcome the Guild, the simple fact is that a majority of Sun TV employees chose to be represented collectively by the Guild as their union. We don’t have the option of “cutting and running”. The Guild has a moral and legal obligation to repreesent the best interests of the employees, no matter what management thinks. We can’t “kill off” Sun TV, nor would it be in the interests of our members to do so. What we want and need to do is reach a collective agreement that allows Sun TV to survive, or even flourish, while at the same time respecting the basic needs of its employees.

  2. Thanks very much for your insightful feedback.  You have a tough road ahead with the upcoming negotiations and I wish you well with that.  We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on the matter of seniority vs. “criteria of excellence” and most especially, on the future of Sun TV.  I realize the union is doing its best to fight for the rights and well-being of its workers but the likelihood of Sun TV surviving in Toronto’s highly competitive TV market seems slim, at best.  Nevertheless, best of luck on the 26th and 27th. 

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