After nearly 19 months on the picket line, unionized newsroom staff of The Chronicle Herald — Nova Scotia’s oldest independently owned newspaper — have ratified a new contract.
The vote Thursday afternoon finalized an agreement that will see half the members of the Halifax Typographical Union laid off and a five per cent wage cut across the board.
The new eight-year deal between The Chronicle Herald and its workers passed with 94 per cent support. The deal, which will increase the employees’ work week from 35 hours to 37.5 hours, was reached Saturday following two days of mediation.
“I think the big word for everyone today is relieved,” Martin O’Hanlon, president of the Communications Workers of America Canada, said Thursday after the vote. CWA Canada is the parent union of the HTU.
“We may not be actually happy with the way the deal turned out exactly. But I think we’re pretty confident that we got the best we could get under the circumstances.”
Employees with the union had been on strike since Jan. 23, 2016. At the time, the union included 61 reporters, editors, photographers, columnists and support staff. That number has dwindled to 52.
Of those remaining members, 25 are returning to the paper, one is going to the Cape Breton Post and 26 are being laid off, said HTU president Ingrid Bulmer.
The employees remaining with the paper will be performing new roles, Bulmer said, as their previous positions have been eliminated.
Tim Krochak, who has worked at the Herald since 1997 as a staff photographer, told CBC News that his new title is multimedia journalist. He said he has mixed feelings about the deal, in which only four of seven photographers will have jobs at the paper.
“Very conflicted. I’m happy I can go back to doing what I’m doing. I can stop being a union activist, per se, and we can try to make the newspaper good again,” said Krochak.
“We’re journalists. I absolutely think I have the best job in the world and I’m very blessed that I’ll hopefully be able to keep doing that.”
‘It was worth it’
O’Hanlon said despite the long strike, it was worth it.
“It would set a terrible tone for labour relations and media across the rest of the country. We stood on our principle. And if you don’t fight for principles as a journalist, what the hell are you doing in journalism? So yes, it was worth it,” he said.
“We couldn’t give up or there’s no point in having a union.”
Paper ‘pleased’ to welcome back journalists
Mark Lever, president and CEO of The Chronicle Herald, said in a statement the paper is “pleased” the union has ratified the contract.
“We want to welcome our award-winning team of almost 30 journalists back to the newsroom. They will be working alongside a team of correspondents located across the province to deliver the local coverage, perspective and insights Nova Scotians want and need,” he said.
“We would also like to thank former newsroom employees who are not returning to work for their contributions to this newspaper.”
Provincial NDP leader Gary Burrill issued a statement saying that members of the union had “stood the gaff” in a “heroic” strike.
“Thank you to the journalists, editors and photographers for standing up for workers’ rights,” he said.
Some replacement workers staying
Journalists will return to work on Tuesday.
O’Hanlon said there will be no replacement workers left on the content production side of the paper, which consists of reporters and “the main editors.”
But some replacement workers will remain on at a different part of the organization — a non-unionized “editing hub,” he told CBC’s Mainstreet.
“I’ve said to people, treat them with respect, with professional courtesy, show them how real professional journalists work, and maybe we’ll win them over to the union,” he said.
Agreement reached Saturday
The province announced in July it would get involved in the dispute by appointing a commissioner who would bring both sides together. If the commissioner’s attempts at mediation had failed, he would have launched a public hearing to investigate the causes of the dispute.
The paper’s owner, Saltwire Network, and the Halifax Typographical Union said Saturday they had reached an agreement to end the strike. (The CBC’s Canadian Media Guild belongs to the same parent union as the newspaper.)
During the strike, the province’s longest in a decade, The Chronicle Herald relied on replacement reporters — many from outside Nova Scotia — who crossed the picket line.
Meanwhile, striking workers launched their own news site, localxpress.ca.