CBC Union workers
Broadcast Solidarity and Struggle
By Shannon Bundock
On August 15th at 12:01 am the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) launched the most recent and sweeping attack on working people that we have seen in Canada this summer. On that day over 5,500 CBC workers were locked out. Negotiations were abandoned by the CBC saying they had to take this action “…in order to remain relevant and competitive…” This reasoning is a carbon copy of the statements and justifications that millions of working people have shoved down their throats as they lose their jobs to downsizing, contracting out and, as CBC says, changes in the “employment model.”
The CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) consists of one bargaining unit with workers in programming and production, technical and general administration all negotiated under one contract. The CMG represents all non-managerial workers in the CBC, outside of Moncton, NB and the province of Quebec and has been in negotiations on behalf of these workers since May 2004.
The Issues Boiled Down: Workers Rights Vs. “A Modern Market”
The issues at the core of this fight are the same issues facing working people across Canada and the world: fair wages, job security and dignified work. The CBC’s line of defense is to state, “Canada is one of the toughest environments in the world for any public broadcaster. The market realities facing the CBC are extremely challenging – intense competition at home and abroad, the sea change in technology, new consumer habits and new platforms for content delivery, substantial industry convergence and our increasingly fragile funding structure.”
Of the roughly 40 issues on the table, a central one in this lockout is “contractual” work versus “permanent” work. On the CBC’s official negotiations website, they have a section explaining that “Contractual Does Not Mean Disposable”. It states that contractual work doesn’t always mean “temporary” work and gives the reassurance that “contract employees can be – and very often are – renewed year after year.” It sounds conditional - and it is. Immediately following this ‘reassurance’, the CBC admits a least one problem, “However, if their position is eliminated, they do not enjoy the same redeployment rights as permanent employees.” Throughout “Highlights of CBC’s Current Comprehensive Offer to the Canadian Media Guild” the same method is followed. CBC justifies why their offer will have no negative impact on workers – well at least not a negative impact for absolutely everyone in absolutely every case. Then the realistic admission follows; alright, they confess, maybe some will suffer.
One Fight, Many Fronts
Last week while driving downtown with a friend of mine, another driver cut us off. “Honk!” I shouted. Rather than hearing the commanding sound of a fist laid into a horn, she tapped it cheerily. “Habit...” she awkwardly explained; just a small sign of the amount of solidarity honking that has been necessary on the streets of our city.
Yes, the streets were busy this summer. In downtown Vancouver, where the CBC workers lined Georgia and Hamilton, only a few blocks away Telecommunication Workers Union members marched around the mammoth Telus building on Robson street. (See article on TWU in this issue.)
The connections aren’t limited to proximity or the familiar sound of those lively honking horns. The battle against Telus is another fight with job security at the top of the list. The shared issues allow us to put the CBC fight in the larger framework of labour battles.
CBC is not an isolated example of a company or public service slashing employee benefits, wages and job security. CBC, created as a crown corporation yet independent in its operation, receives about $60 million dollars in subsidy annually from the Government of Canada. It also survives on a few hundred million dollars from advertising and other miscellaneous funding. When cutting jobs and contracting out, the CBC uses the same arguments used by the government when cutting and contracting out public sector jobs. Arguments such as ‘responsible fiscal management’ and ‘coping with funding shortfalls’. Given that the CBC, though a public corporation, is working in a sector of private competitors, they also get to use the arguments forwarded by their private counterparts. These are the ones of ‘remaining competitive’ and ‘responding to the changing global economy’.
While major corporations, like Telus, wage a campaign to break unions, the CBC is riding on the rightward wave. They are taking advantage of the anti-worker, anti-union climate in this country to push further and further away from workers rights.
Beyond the CBC: Building Unity Among Working People
The annoyance over missing programs and awkward management-types gracing the airwaves is easily forgotten. Turning this lockout from a personal inconvenience into something to fight for is essential for building solidarity with CBC workers. The job of working people in Canada today, and especially when workers are taking action, is to understand the common interest that we have with those on the frontlines. With this understanding the irritation with CBC can be transformed into anger and anger into action.
In some small ways, solidarity for the CMG workers has already spread farther and wider than Canada itself. According to a report from the AFL-CIO, a contingent of US telecommunication workers delivered a letter on Sept 12th, to the Canadian Embassy in Washington demanding the Government of Canada act to stop the CBC lockout. The contingent contained the Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley. “‘They’re acting just like any other media private sector corporate - greedy - media company.’ The Newspaper Guild is the parent union for the Canadian Media Guild. Foley says another major issue is that the CBC is seeking to contract jobs out, hindering the ability of journalists to have a career. ‘It's a race to the bottom for these jobs. That they'll do it on the cheap just like any other private media corporation would try to do. That's bad for journalism and it's particularly bad for public broadcasting.’”
Winning the battle against the CBC is not simply about preventing the contracting out of CBC work. In Canada, each victory in favor of working people is one more blow to the profit-driven foundations that Canada’s economy is run on. The fact that the CBC, purportedly a ‘public’ corporation, is attacking workers no differently than the ‘biggest, baddest’ companies around, is a testament to the crisis that working people face in this country. The fight of the CMG workers is therefore the fight of all working people.
On August 17th, Fire This Time had the chance to visit the Vancouver CMG workers on the frontlines, right after pickets were set up. On this page of Fire This Time, in a special box there are a series of interviews on the lockout, the impact on CMG workers and the connections to the fight of working people across Canada.
Interview with Locked Out Workers on the Street:
CBC in Its Purest Broadcasting
Lockout Coordinator Vice President of the Vancouver Location for the Canadian Media Guild at CBC
FTT: What are the main issues for CBC workers, why are you on the picket line today?
Well, we’ve been locked out, the corporation escorted people out of the building and gave notice to get out, even though we were negotiating. We were still talking, and they set this deadline and pushed everyone out. So it was totally their decision.
The sticking point seemed to be what they want to do with the work force. They already have a lot of flexibility. They want more flexibility. They want flexibility – what they call flexibility - to hire people on whatever terms they want. They want temporary, contract, basically whenever they want to do it. They union position is that they already have lots of flexibility, there already is a temporary workforce. We’d obviously like to see more people on staff, people who can have some stability in their career. The corporation is trying to go the other way to say they want more and more flexibility. That is the central conflict.
FTT: What do you think the lockout means for the Canadian Media Guild workers?
It’s a new experience for many of them. I’m working in the technical area and previous there were separate unions. There was a situation where in my career we were out in ’99, we were out in 2001, but that was the technicians only. The other union, which comprises writers, producers, announcers, reporters and support staff, they were all in. We had them crossing the picket line, going to work. We had the corporation using them still trying to get things on the air.
Now we have a lot of those people who have never had job action before experiencing it for the first time. They are understanding. The corporation is making claims on things and they’re going, “How can they be saying that, where is this coming from?” They are realizing that the corporation is not a benevolent parent. They [the corporation] are fully prepared to lock the doors and put us out on the street for an indefinite period of time. So it is a learning experience for them.
FTT: The CBC seems to be quite aggressive in their language and their position towards the CMG. What do you think it will take to win this battle?
Well, I think it’s political. It seems to be political. CBC is not a commercial entity, although a lot of the people behind this action of the corporation’s side talk about it being business. They have to operate in a business fashion, but they don’t have the consequences of being a business.
In the past and a lot of times it takes political will. There has to be some political pressure to say that a public broadcaster is not a business. It is something that is for the public and it cannot be allowed to go on like this and put the parties together and hash something out. Let’s get a deal. Unfortunately we might be in the same boat this time.
FTT: In BC especially this summer there have been significant labour disputes, with the Truck Drivers and the Telecommunication Workers Union. With CBC this is a struggle happening across the country.
Absolutely, from Victoria, to St. Johns, to Goose Bay, to Iqaluit, to Windsor and Regina. You know it’s everyplace.
FTT: Do you think this will have an impact on workers outside of CBC or workers across the country?
I think the Telus situation, I think they are in a worse situation than us. I think their employer is even more recalcitrant. And it does [have an impact]. I think there is an agenda. I think a lot of us feel that the CBC has people there that have an ideological agenda which is to cut costs, at any cost. To create a floating, flexible workforce that can come and go at their whim. That is happening in Telus. They are trying to get away from anything that is a fixed cost or that is giving any benefit to the working person.
FTT: What do you think people within Canada, who are supportive, can do to help in this fight?
I think that the best thing is to get back to the political pressure. It’s writing to your MP’s, write to the minister of Heritage. Put some pressure on the politicians to say that this is not the same as a port strike. This is something that needs some pressure politically. I think that is the best thing.
CBC is not going to listen. Someone called and couldn’t get through. I don’t think they’re even paying attention to the public. They don’t have to because they don’t have direct commercial interests. The only thing that affects them is political.
Thank you Rob
FTT: Why are you yourself out here on the picket line?
I’m out here mainly in support of a situation where I want to make sure that the legacy that I leave – I’ve been here for 30 years – is a legacy that will protect the people with permanent staff positions. I’ve had one for 30 years, the one that I’m going to leave will be a permanent position and will be filled rather than a contract position. I think that is only fair. We’ve been here for so long there are jobs where we develop a lot of expertise and those jobs that should not be filled lightly. They are positions that need experience and they should always be treated as a permanent position. Some positions can be contract. Some positions can have more of a casual character. I don’t think the one that I am in for example needs to be filled that way. That is one of the reasons.
FTT: In the Telus strike a huge issue is contracting out and a huge issue is job security. That also seems to be an issue with the CBC lockout in its own way. I’m wondering if you see an impact on workers outside of CBC.
It is really a reality of the times. We are seeing a major contraction of union protection. The reality seems to be more now than ever that there are businesses that want to hire when the work is there and when the work is not there, they don’t have people around. It’s really a hire as needed approach. Maybe there needs to be a compromise. Maybe a percentage of the workforce can be that way, but it shouldn’t swing drastically. If maybe 10% of a workforce is that way, but it shouldn’t suddenly swing to 15%, 16%. You have workers that contribute to pension plans and benefits over a long time. If you don’t have that permanent workforce, then who is going to be contributing into that pension plan down the road. The people who put in the 30 years, the 25 years, the 20 years, by the time they hit 75 years of age there might not even be a fund to draw from. Something has to be protected and at least some kind of a compromise has to be made.
FTT: What do you think it will take to win this struggle?
Some kind of a compromise. Some kind of a middle ground where if management says that right now there is only 6% of contracting out and we say no realistically there is 30%. We have to get on the same wavelength. What really is contracting out. What really is permanent. If we agree on the numbers then there has to be some sort of mid-point.
FTT: What should people in support of the CBC workers do in order to help your battle?
Probably it’s the same as anywhere else. You get a hold of your MLA provincially, you get a hold of your MP federally. You send a letter into the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. Call into radio shows, or anywhere there is a chance to voice your opinion and say “You know what? CBC is relevant to a large part of this country.” Maybe not some much in the urban areas, but there is more than just urban Canada to deal with. I mean CBC takes care of everybody. I think a lot of people realize that and are in support of that. So hopefully they continue and express their views.
FTT: Thank you very much.
Alright have a good one.
With the CBC radio’s Early Edition
FTT: Why are you out on the picket line today?
For the simple reason that it is a labour dispute and we all work together. In the interest of working together copaseticly in the future one should be out here.
FTT: What can people do to support the locked out workers?
Beyond the beeping of the horns in the cars? Well, I think there is a website that management is heading that is the most direct means available for people to express their displeasure if they are indeed displeased with this labour dispute. I think that we bar none we have the best quality broadcasting in Canada and it would be great if people took a very direct means to voice their support.
FTT: Why are you out on the picket lines today?
Basically because we’ve been locked out. Within the negotiations going on what is being offered by the employer is just not enough. Especially for the new generations coming in. They want us to be disposable workers, they want contract workers, temporary employment rather than giving them security by giving them permanent jobs. There is already about 30% of our staff that is temporary or contractual. We think that is enough. We are flexible and we have always shown flexibility over the years when there has been cut backs and so we figured that we are flexible already and they don’t need anymore room for flexibility.
FTT: Given that this is a fight going on across Canada do you see it having an effect on other working people in Canada?
I hope so! I hope that people will realize that having people on contract forever is not a good thing. I’ve been working with the CBC for over 15 years. But I was a contractual worker, a free-lancer for 8 of those 15 years. It took me 8 years to have a certain amount of stability. I’m willing to be flexible, but at one point they have to say “we like the work that you’re doing and hopefully we can hire you on. So hopefully this sort of fight will have an influence for everyone else. So that people will know that contracting out may be ok for certain things, but you cannot do it for your entire workforce. We will have no stability for anyone and it is not good for the corporation, it is not good for the product we are putting out. Having stability helps people be more creative and have a better workforce. Can I ever own a house, or maybe a car and not have my parents co-sign for me? If you are contractual it is hard to get a loan because they don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from.
When you have a good job/life balance then you can do a better job and produce better material for our audience. That is what we want to do. All the people at CBC, what we love doing is producing good, creative shows for the audience. That what we want to get back to doing. That’s basically it. To have good job security and a good life balance.
FTT: What is the best way to support you in this strike?
The best thing for people to do is call your MP’s. Put pressure to get back to the negotiating table. The important thing is to push them so they will negotiate. Right now the employer is sticking to their offer that they had from the start. Push them to have a little more flexibility.
FTT: Thank you Annick.
FTT: Why are you out on the picket line today?
Probably for the first time in my life I really believe that the company that I work for is making a big mistake. They don’t seem to want to keep full time employees and I’m a full time employee. They don’t want to hire any more full time employees and I think that that is wrong. I think that full time employees are more loyal, more dedicated and they know the scoop. If you get someone to do something and they are not full time, then they are going to wander off to something else and forget everything that they learned.
That is sort-of it in a nutshell for me. I believe in the cause more than I ever have. I’ve done this four or five times now and this time it feels like “Hey, this is it!” It has gotten more vital too because there are way more people involved.
FTT: What do you think it is going to take to win this battle?
I really don’t know! If I knew the answer then I’d be in there with the negotiators! (laughs) It is beyond me I really don’t know…
FTT: What do you think people who aren’t CBC workers can do to help and support?
That is a very good question. Coming down here and encouraging… writing to your MP. The things that probably everyone else has told you. It is a little overwhelming, it is the end of my shift and I’m a little bit bagged. But anything that could in anyway make us feel like people are behind us is good.
I keep hearing about the Telus workers and I somehow think that their fight is just as hard as ours. They are sort of in the same scenario, maybe worse because they have been fighting for a contract for five years.
FTT: Why are you out on the picket line today?
Well, because we have no choice. The doors are locked. We cannot go back to work… it’s a lockout.
FTT: What are the issues at the center of the lockout?
The issues are very old. There are ones that are very precise, but there is also a global issue. There is a lack of funding for arts and culture. You take the small issues and try to make links and find out who is responsible, right? At the end is the source that every year they cut funding, I know it is millions of dollars cut every year in culture. In Canada if it health or education people care because it is considered essential needs. But art and culture are not considered vital.
The more precise points about the conflict right now is that the contracts are really loose – say I was hired and they said “just until we don’t need you anymore.” These people are creative and they are intelligent and they still believe in Radio Canada and CBC and public radio and public television. They [the workers] are super qualified, but it is very ungrateful work because we give and give and we have to be generous. It is ungrateful to not give us good working conditions.
FTT: What can what people outside the CBC do to support you in this lockout?
I don’t know? Complain… but then you cannot really call the CBC, you just get an answering machine saying that there is a labour dispute. People don’t seem to be noticing that much because they are playing repeats.
What you are doing is very helpful! (laughs) It would be good if it gets in your newspaper and the Georgia Straight and other radio.
FTT: I hope things go well, thank you Mariehelen.
Back to Article Listings