Talks between the company that publishes the Vancouver Sun and Province and the union that represents their workers broke down after two days of negotiations earlier this month over contracting out of the printing of both newspapers.
That increases the likelihood of a labour dispute in a year’s time over Pacific Newspaper Group’s plan to have outside companies handle the printing.
“They can lock us out or we can go on strike,” said Unifor Local 2000 vice-president Gary Engler. “Of course, we have the right to picket and all of those sorts of things.”
Postmedia Network recently announced it will sell the Surrey property where its printing plant is located and either contract out the printing or build a new plant that would require fewer workers. The company imposed a Nov. 18 deadline for an agreement to be reached on staffing levels for a new plant, but a Unifor release called the company’s demands “too extreme” for the union to accept.
“Among other conditions, the company insists on the right to choose from among our current members as to who would be able to work at a new plant,” it stated. “It was estimated that only about one-quarter of our current Kennedy Heights members would be asked to work at the new facility.”
The union also claims the company offered far less severance pay for displaced press operators than it has offered its editorial and business staff under a Voluntary Staff Reduction Plan.
The collective agreement between Unifor and Postmedia’s subsidiary Pacific Newspaper Group expires on Nov. 30, 2014. Engler said the company suggested more talks in January, but the Unifor release called agreement “highly unlikely.” PNG announced it has already contracted with Transcontinental Printing to handle printing in the event that agreement cannot be reached with Unifor on staffing levels for a new plant.
Engler said the recent talks revealed that only the Sun would be printed at Transcontinental’s plant on Annacis Island, however, with another printing company handling the Province. The current collective agreement prevents contracting out, and its provisions would be extended under the B.C. Labour Code in the event of a strike or lockout.
“We know where the printing is going,” noted Engler. “Transcontinental is unionized as well. Where the Province is going is a non-union plant.”
Meanwhile, another large U.S. hedge fund has acquired a major ownership interest in Postmedia. Silver Point Capital recently bought a 19 per cent stake in the company, which makes it the second largest owner of Postmedia behind New York-based GoldenTree Asset Management, which owns about 35 per cent.
Canada’s largest chain of dailies, which was founded in the 19 century by the Southam family, was bought out of the bankruptcy of Canwest Global Communications in 2010 by a group of its creditors, with financial backing from several U.S. hedge funds.
Vancouver journalist Marc Edge is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.
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The Kennedy Heights printing plant will be put up for sale immediately and operations there will cease sometime in 2015, the union was told today by Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia.
The company presented two possible options going forward. One is contracting out the work currently done at Kennedy Heights. The company has “entered into a contract with Transcontinental” to print papers effective early 2015, Godfrey told Local 2000 representatives.
The other option is the union and company reaching an agreement to open a new plant that would cost substantially less to operate than Kennedy Heights. Godfrey explained that the contract between Postmedia and Transcontinental will not go into effect if the company and union reach a deal before Nov. 18, 2013 that reduces costs at a new plant by 70-75 percent.
Our current contract language says “there will be no involuntary loss of employment of any regular employee during the life of the contract as a result of” contracting out.
Union officers will be consulting with our legal counsel and meeting with members to discuss our next steps.
The company said it was hoping to have further discussions soon.
Postmedia also announced today that it is selling the Calgary Herald building and land and will be contracting out printing beginning in November.
A tentative four-year deal has been reached between Local 2000 and Pacific News Group covering all unionized employees of the Sun and Province newspapers.
“This was a very hard round of bargaining because of the difficult financial condition of the company and the troubled state of the newspaper industry,” said Local President Mike Bocking. “The agreement reached is the best possible under the circumstances.”
There will be no wage increase in the first three years of the contract, which expired Nov. 30, 2010, and a 1% raise on Dec. 1, 2013.
Complete details of the agreement will be released at chapel meetings Thursday and at an information meeting Sunday, July 22, 11 a.m. at the Metrotown Hilton hotel. Voting will follow immediately after the meeting.
Final details on voting will be announced tomorrow.
The Vancouver Sun and Province are getting out of the insert business effective July 15, 2012, a move that will cost over 50 Local 2000 members their jobs. Management informed the union about the move on Monday, saying that the insert business was on track to lose almost $1 million this year. Only about 12 members will be eligible for relocation (severance) pay under Part E (the Mailroom Department) of our collective agreement.
PNG mailers are divided into three groups: Regulars, substitutes and day slippers. Regulars are guaranteed hours and operate the machinery that assembles the newspaper for delivery; substitutes fill in for regulars, but get the majority of their work when inserts are added to the newspapers; day slippers are called in as needed. Only the 12 regulars who will fall to the substitute “board” under the company’s plan, are eligible for relocation pay of up to one year’s pay. Even though some substitutes have over 20 years seniority, they are not eligible for severance of any sort, in these circumstance under existing contract language.
Discussions with the company are ongoing under Section 54 of the B.C. Labour Code.