The long and bitter strike of the Victoria Times Colonist unit of the Victoria-Vancouver Island Newspaper Guild and the four other bargaining units at the paper (TNG/CWA 30403, The Mailers; CEP 2000 Island Council, the composing room; plus the pressmen and stereo units of GCIU) began at noon on Sept. 3, 2002 and was ultimately to last exactly nine weeks.
But the roots of the strike go back much further, to the arrival of a new publisher two years earlier, who immediately started complaining about the pay of the mailers. Management also began to make it clear that the VVING contract (which covers the newsroom, advertising, circulation, business, maintenance and IT departments) was unacceptable to them. (Never mind that much of it dated to the last major labour dispute at the TC, nearly 30 years prior.)
A year before the strike – before negotiations even began – managers were being shipped off for training on Goss Colorliner presses like the one owned by the TC. Interesting, three months before the strike, the obsolete analog computer controls on the press (the only Colorliner in the world to still have them) were replaced by the more modern digital computer and controls used on the presses management trained on.
When negotiations began in early 2002, management was looking for huge concessions from its unions, including VVING. And through months of talks, management would not budge; further insisting they would not discuss VVING proposals at the table until VVING accepted the demanded company takebacks.
Indeed a steady stream of letters from management to the workers before and during the strike insisted on blaming union leadership — never mind the 97% margin that voted in favour of a strike in August. Indeed these letters and attempts to split the Joint Council only served to harden members’ resolve.
Only days before the strike began did management begin making changes – slowly and initially minor – to their demands. Even as the strike progressed, intermittent talks yielded only minor movement.
Chronicling these talks and the many other stories of our strike was the tri-weekly Picket Post, a newsletter produced by striking TC journalists that was at times happy, sad, funny and whimsical. The Guild Web site had more than 22,000 hits during the strike.
The strike turned bitter about one month in, when the TC management began producing a weekly tabloid newspaper (It was preceded by a special management-produced paper chronicling the Queen’s Jubilee-year visit to Victoria. The Guild beat them to it with a online report.)
Violence nearly flared when the first of these tabloids was ready to roll out of the plant under the watchful eyes of overgrown goons in black, hired from an agency by the company. It took an injunction, sought from the courts by the company, to get these papers out of the plant.
VVING and the other unions began a highly successful public campaign asking people to refuse to accept delivery of the paper, asking businesses not to carry the paper, asking businesses to refuse to advertise in the paper and asking newsmakers not to be interviewed by management journalists. In the end, the Picket Post was running more ads than the replacement TC, no major retail outlets were carrying it, and a campaign of distributing “do-not-deliver” door hangers was in full swing.
The deciding moment of the strike, in the end, was the company’s decision to bring in one of Canada’s top mediators, Vince Ready. Even he had no luck in the first weekend of marathon talks, as again the company indicated willingness to make only minor moves on some of its demanded concessions.
The week after that, Oct. 28-Nov. 3 proved interesting on several fronts. The company suddenly started signalling desperation as the lucrative Christmas advertising season looked to be slipping from their grasp: First they threatened to sue the unions for libel for calling the weekly replacement product a “scab” newspaper, then they threatened to complain to the labour board because the four unions were insistent on maintaining their past practice of bargaining as a joint council (despite company attempts to split the unions). Finally, on Oct. 31, as the final replacement paper was being prepared for shipment from the plant, the hired goons suddenly stepped up attempts to provoke the overnight picket crew, even following pickets and trying to egg them into fisticuffs.
When Vince Ready reconvened talks on Nov. 2, company takeback demands were quickly pulled from the table and new contracts — largely based on the prior contracts, with minor improvements on both management and union sides — were hammered out during a 28-hour marathon of negotiations.
Message from the President
The following are excerpts from a speech delivered to the VVING membership just before the ratification vote for the new Guild collective agreement. Minutes later, the contract was accepted by a 94% (153-18) margin:
Chris Carolan, president VVING.
On behalf of our negotiating committee, we are recommending acceptance of this tentative agreement.
I think it is important that we realize how we arrived at tonight’s meeting.
I honestly believe that all of you, had a very important part in helping us win this nine-week battle.
Because I would hate to forget to recognize any one person, I have chosen to take the easy way out and not name individuals.
I think that we all have stories about a fellow employee that did something special. And if you know about it, chances are the people inside the building probably know about it, and that paid huge dividends in the end.
I saw people on the picket line introducing themselves to fellow workers, even though they may both have worked at the TC for many years.
We had pot luck meals on the picket line. We had meals served from a barbecue in the back of a truck, on the picket line.
We had total strangers walk our picket lines with us. We had proud members of other unions walk our picket lines with us. We had the largest labour federation in BC come to our defence.
We had members visit nearly every store in Greater Victoria, and ask them not to sell the replacement paper.
Our members waited with anticipation for the latest edition of the Picket Post as they walked the picket line.
We had members scrubbing out our toilets at strike headquarters on a daily basis.
We had picket captains that were our life line. We had two members that were the liaison between the executive and the picket captains.
We had members walk the graveyard shift of the picket line to keep us in touch with our fellow union members from the backshops.
We had members volunteer to have their heads shaved on the picket line (for charity), which reminded us all that there are more important issues in life, than our little dispute.
We brought down our CanWest picket signs on Sept. 11 because it was a day to reflect, and realize that walking a picket line is certainly not that much of an inconvenience.
We had members volunteer to organize our dance.
We had a member give up 8 hours of his time to set up his equipment and then supply the music for our dance.
We had the wife of one of our alternate negotiating committee members make us all lunch one Sunday.
We had another member volunteer to coordinate the distribution of thousands of door hangers in the Greater Victoria area.
We had volunteer after volunteer sign up for flying and sitting pickets.
We had a member that was up day and night organizing and coordinating the flying and sitting pickets.
We had a member do up our picket schedules five weeks in advance.
When our flying pickets in cars lost track of a TC truck, we relied on our flying picket on his motorcycle.
We had a member play the fiddle on the picket line, because he felt like it.
We had a member set up a way to purchase vegetables on the cheap.
We had members who volunteered as alternates on our negotiating committee, when some of us were not available, sometimes on short notice.
We had a couple ride the bus from Sooke on a daily basis to kick-start the Picket Post.
We had a member update our web page on what appeared to be an hourly basis, and do a damn good job of it.
We learned that the best horoscope could be read in the Picket Post.
We found out that one of our gentleman from our editorial department ripped the paper off a door on a scab truck to reveal its identity.
We had one of our members dress the part of a goon.
We had members taking pictures day and night, and then sharing them with us on our web page.
We had a member whose daughter went through very complicated surgery, and who remains in ICU, still have time to process 200 paycheques a week, and submit weekly financial reports, and then go back to hospital to spend the night with her daughter.
We had one of members going door to door selling ads in the Picket Post, and when we realized the Picket Post had more ads than the TC paper, we started realizing we were beginning to win the battle.
We had members call on advertisers and ask them to pull their ads until this dispute was over, and because of their efforts the competing weeklies went to a 64 page broad sheet. Don’t think that didn’t get the TC’s attention.
The examples I have given are some of the reasons why we are here tonight. If I noticed all of these occurrences, and I wasn’t even on the picket line most days, then its safe to say that the people inside the building witnessed much more. And what they witnessed was a group of people that were dedicated to a cause.
Because of the positive attitude on the picket line, the negotiating committee was able to parlay your strength and resolve into helping achieve this contract.
Speaking of the negotiating committee, I am going to do what I said I wouldn’t do, and I wish to name these people, as they walked the picket line and then volunteered to negotiate this contract. They are: Pat Zalopski, Doug Skinner, Deborah Service-Brewster, Sharon Lloyd, Dan Zeidler and Deb England. (Voice from the audience: And Chris Carolan).
While our members of the Guild have been an inspiration to us all, I want to repeat what I said at our dance last week.
In order to end this dispute to our satisfaction, one person, one department, one classification or one union would not bring an end to this dispute, rather it was imperative that we have a strong, united Joint Council. We are here tonight, because of that Joint Council.
We have been told that we have boasted about our Cadillac agreement. That is wrong. Rather, we are PROUD of our contract, and tonight, that contract is a little better than it was nine weeks ago.
In closing, I can honestly tell you, that I hope we never, ever, have another work stoppage at the TC.
However, if we are ever challenged again, it is important that we stand up to the challenge. Tonight, is not about winning and losing, its about standing up for what you believe is right. We faced a corporation that attempted to bring us to our knees, but your actions have allowed us to stand taller than ever, and when you walk back into our building, you can be proud that you have earned the right to hold your head high, because you have the respect of your fellow workers, and you have your dignity.