Sun TV Workers No Longer Unionized, CRTC Finally Grants Quebecor’s February Proposals

The Canadian Media Guild is no longer representing the workforce at Sun TV.  As a result, without any public fanfare, the CMG has removed the “Sun TV” link from its official website.  (It originally appeared in a list on the home page in between “S-VOX” and “TVOntario”.)  All of the updates that you would find after clicking that link are no longer accessible normally.  (However, after doing a Google search on the site, they can still be seen in cached versions.)  Also, when examining the list of union branch managers, there’s a blank space under “Sun TV Branch Manager”.
The union was having an extremely difficult time trying to secure the very first collective bargaining agreement for the demoralized workers at the struggling Toronto station.  The final union update regarding the negotiations was posted on June 4.  It advertised a June 6 meeting for Sun TV employees to decide for themselves whether or not they were still committed to the cause.
According to Staff Representative Glenn Gray and National President Lise Lareau, they weren’t.
Each wrote separate emails to me in response to my burning questions about the sudden disappearance of Sun TV mentions on the official CMG site and to confirm what I had recently suspected, that the union was no longer representing the workers at the station.  Gray gave me a basic overview of what happened while Lareau expressed disappointment with the lack of solidarity and enthusiasm for fighting for a deal.
“All of the original [union] activists have left Sun [TV],” Gray wrote.  “[T]here were significant layoffs shortly after we became the bargaining agent and the talks were protracted.”
“Because we were not successful, after numerous attempts, in engaging employees in the bargaining process, we applied to the CIRB [Canadian Industrial Relations Board] to have the bargaining certificate rescinded.  The employees were advised of our application.”
“The Board rescinded the bargaining certificate on August 30, 2007,” he concluded.
The outspoken Lareau, who has long been critical of Quebecor’s plans for Sun TV (and God knows she hasn’t been the only one), began her message by offering three reasons why the union wasn’t making any progress in not only its dealings with management but also with the employees it was trying very hard to champion:
“What happened at SunTV was very sad for many reasons, in my view.  It was a combination of:
1. Local managers not committing to the bargaining process so the result was that it took way too long to get a contract and ultimately, employees lost faith in the whole thing.
2. Quebecor appeared to neither have a plan for this entree into English TV nor an interest in it; and continues to exhibit no sign of putting any money into original *programming* (as opposed to repurposed stuff from the Sun newspaper).
3. For many employees, this is their first job.  They see SunTV as a place to start and they don’t want to stick their necks out.  Their sheer desire to work in this business is being exploited.  I had hoped we could offer them a collective backbone to demand Quebecor do better…as an employer and as a broadcaster.  But it wasn’t to be.”
Hard to disagree with any of that.
“Ultimately,” she continued.  “we felt that without their support (for whatever reason), we would do them harm by continuing to bargain in a weak position.  So we really felt we had no choice but to leave.”
Judging by these comments, it was a lose-lose situation for all involved.  A sad state of affairs for a story with few positives.
No matter one’s views on unions, though, from what’s been observed by this website, the CMG put in the maximum effort required to make working conditions better for Sun TV employees, despite their lack of success.  Over the course of many, many months, they were professional, made reasonable demands and were more than willing to talk things out with Quebecor over outstanding disagreements.  Honestly, what more could they have done?  It would take a smarter individual to think of something that hasn’t been mentioned. 
Some people, no matter how hard you try to win them over, will never be persuaded by your point of view, whether it’s because of fear or skepticism, or perhaps a combination of the two.  Either way, you can’t blame the union for exiting.  One can only take so much frustration before accepting reality.
It’s now understandable why solidarity is so crucial in these negotiations.  Without it, significant progress can’t be made.  How could it in an atmosphere of impenetrable division?  What matters now is the future of Sun TV and its workers.  This website has long argued the pointlessness of securing a deal with the station whose future remains clouded in uncertainty.  Numerous rounds of layoffs have reduced the station to a skeleton crew.  How can it possibly survive for very long?  (In fact, its continuing existence remains surprising.)  It’s now up to surviving staff to decide their fates.  They can ride things out hoping in vain for a reversal of fortune or they can seek the counsel of the CMG in order to find better employment elsewhere.
If it was me, I’d choose the latter.
Meanwhile, the CRTC continues to prove its irrelevance.  Back in February, The Financial Times reported that Quebecor put forth a proposal to the regulatory body (which was also noted in this space).  It wanted permission to allow Sun TV to expand its reach to markets in Ottawa and London by implementing two new transmitters.  This website snickered at the possibility of viewers in those cities having the opportunity to see top-notch programming like Here’s Lucy and The Beachcombers, neither of which have much of a following in the Toronto-Hamilton area.
Apparently, the CRTC disagreed.  Thanks to CMG National President Lise Lareau mentioning it in her email, believe it or not, Quebecor’s proposal was approved on September 14.  Despite “interventions” from CHUM (who very briefly owned Sun TV), Rogers and CanWest, the Commission ruled that Quebecor has two years to build the transmitters and as long as they don’t “solicit local advertising in Ottawa and London”, everything will be peachy.  Can you believe it took seven months to arrive at this decision?
Knowing full well how toothless and ineffectual the Commission is, Quebecor has long been getting away with license violations.  For instance, it wasn’t supposed to allow Toronto Sun editorial views to be aired on its much derided late afternoon newscast, Canoe Live, as former Toronto Star Media Critic Antonia Zerbisias has previously noted.  But no one’s stopping them.
Furthermore, as Lareau noted in her email to me, with regards to the station’s refusal to work out a deal for its embattled employees, “Ironically and — doesn’t it say more about the CRTC — SunTV appears to [have been] rewarded [for] all this, not to mention the fact that it’s not living up to its original CRTC license to program for 2nd generation Canadians…What a kicker.”
Indeed.  Also, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher has been granted permission to broadcast digitally.  Great.  With friends like the CRTC, who needs enemies?  Right, Quebecor?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 20, 2007
5:19 p.m.
CORRECTION:  This piece erroneously noted in its original version that the CMG was “trying to secure a second collective bargaining agreement for the demoralized workers at the struggling Toronto station.  (The previous one expired in January 2006.)”.  According to National President Lise Lareau, Sun TV never had such an arrangement in place before.  They were, in fact, working towards their first agreement.
When she originally brought the mistake to my attention, I expressed confusion.  I had long been under the impression that this was the second go-round for contract talks.  As she explained in her third email, “There was no company-wide contract of any kind in place.  People had individual arrangements.  We organized the station in summer 05 (it had gone on the air in 04).  And we worked to get an agreement starting in late 05 through 06 and half of 07.”
“Where you might have become confused,” she continued.  “is that by law, when collective bargaining is underway, conditions of employment have to be ‘frozen’ until agreement is reached.  So individuals’ contracts could not be changed while the talks were on.”
She concluded thusly:
“Interesting to see what happens to their contracts now….”
Let the speculation begin.
At any event, special thanks to National President Lareau for clearing this all up.  My apologies for the error.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 21, 2007
6:48 p.m.
Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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