The largest independent daily newspaper in Canada has told staff it is removing reporter bylines "indefinitely," ahead of a possible lockout or strike, according to the paper's union. 

The Chronicle Herald is negotiating a new collective agreement with the Halifax Typographical Union, which represents 61 newsroom staff. The union says management wants to lay off a third of the newsroom.

Reporters and photographers withheld bylines earlier this week to protest a decision by Herald management to file a lockout notice before two final days of negotiations with a provincially appointed conciliator. A work stoppage could come as a soon as Jan. 23.

Management emailed editors and union staff late Tuesday afternoon, union vice president and Herald reporter Francis Campbell said.

"It goes on to say, 'To avoid confusion, bylines will be withheld from all stories and replaced with The Chronicle Herald'," Campbell said of the emailed memo.

Replacement workers

The Herald has been asking Halifax freelance journalists to write for the paper during a lockout or strike — and from home, without bylines.

Campbell said the union theory is if there is a lockout, replacement workers will not use bylines and the paper is looking to avoid confusion among its readers by pulling all bylines now.

Reporters have the right to withhold bylines in the collective agreement, but Campbell argues a permanent ban on bylines undercuts trust with the reader. 

"If you're talking about journalistic accountability, well, there's your name, right on top of the story you've written. There's your name, right underneath the photo," Campbell said.

The agreement contains nothing about management withholding bylines during labour disputes or otherwise, he said.

The Chronicle Herald's management did not respond to an interview request from CBC News Wednesday.

'I've never seen this happen before'

Lead union negotiator David Wilson said this is a sign of tough negotiations to come. 

"I'm flabbergasted. I can't believe how childish this has gotten. I've never seen this happen before," Wilson said from Ottawa, where he's negotiating for another newspaper.

"They're simply doing this to intimidate the staff, just [to] say they really mean business this time."

Wilson said the union is looking at options, including filing a grievance.