The national union representing the striking Chronicle Herald employees says it plans to file an unfair labour practice complaint against the newspaper in the wake of its purchase of 28 news outlets across Atlantic Canada on Thursday.

"We're already looking at legal action," said Martin O'Hanlon, president of the Canadian chapter of Communications Workers of America union.  

He told CBC's Mainstreet the union also plans to renew its call to the labour minister of Nova Scotia to appoint an industrial commission to help settle the strike.  

The president of the Halifax Typographical Union, the local union representing Herald staff, says the announcement of the deal has left them in shock.

"This has been a bit of a game-changer for us," Ingrid Bulmer said Thursday from the picket line, where journalists have been on strike for almost 15 months.

"We had thought several times that it's time to make a deal, that we felt we were close. This feels different right now. We're not really sure what the company's intentions are, especially when you consider that they have gobbled up a large portion of the Atlantic provinces' newspapers."

All of Transcontinental's news outlets in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador have been sold to SaltWire Network Inc., a newly created media group that publishes the Chronicle Herald. The purchase includes 27 newspapers and one digital-only site.

Looking at every option

Bulmer said the sale raises questions about the newspaper's negotiating stance, which she described as "crying poor."

"If anything we would have thought the reverse: that Transcon would have purchased the Chronicle Herald," she said.

'I hope it sends a message [to striking workers] that we are thinking about the future. We are trying to grow this organization and provide a stable base for them and their families.' - Mark Lever, Chronicle Herald president

The union will look into every option, she said.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour said in a news release they are also pushing for provincial Labour Minister Kelly Regan to appoint an industrial inquiry commission.

When asked about the deal, a spokeswoman for Regan said the province encourages the Herald and its workers to return to the table and that conciliation services are available but would not comment on the sale. 

"It would be inappropriate for the minister of labour to comment on the business decisions of a private company," said Lisa Jarrett.  

​Emergency meeting

Bulmer said the union is seeking a conference call or emergency meeting with the newspaper's negotiators, but as she answered reporters' questions and motorists honked support as they passed, a deal on a new contract sounded farther away than ever.

"There's a time to draw a line in the sand, and they may have given us that line," she said. "At some point you're going to stop giving, especially when they keep taking. What do we get back from it that they've purchased ... [many] of the papers from the Atlantic provinces?"

Mark Lever

SaltWire President Mark Lever says there are no plans for cuts at the newly acquired publications. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Chronicle Herald president Mark Lever, now the head of the newly formed SaltWire Network, said that the striking workers should see the transaction as an opportunity to come back to a bigger, more stable platform. He said there are no immediate plans to make cuts.

"I hope it sends a message that we are thinking about the future," he told CBC News. "We are trying to grow this organization and provide a stable base for them and their families." 

Bulmer said she doesn't trust Lever based on his track record at the Chronicle Herald. She's also concerned the newspaper will have less need of replacement workers because it will be able to take photos and stories from the other newspapers. 

Lever said "certainly there's opportunity to centralize certain functional responsibilities, and it won't necessarily be in Halifax."

12 collective agreements

There are 12 collective agreements inside the SaltWire Network. Lever told The Canadian Press that Transcontinental had already made some "tough decisions" ahead of the sale.

"We feel very comfortable that much of the stuff we are trying to accomplish in our contract in Halifax has already happened at the other papers inside this organization and we feel very comfortable that we'll enjoy good relations with those bargaining units."

In Newfoundland, the vice-president of Unifor Local 441G, which represents about 80 former Transcontinental workers, said the strike in Nova Scotia gives him pause.

However, Keith Gosse said said they're taking a wait-and-see approach. It's not the first time they've been sold, and they're no strangers to cuts.

"Our newsroom has been gutted so many times in the past four or five years that we're nothing but skin and bones anyway," he said. 

With files from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, CBC's Mainstreet and The Canadian Press