Firing of CHCH workers was 'needlessly insensitive,' union says

CHCH has made 59 full-time and 23 part-time job offers after terminating 129 full-time and 38 part-time jobs on Friday.

Station will go from 80 hours to 17.5 hours of local news programming per week

CHCH headquarters in Hamilton, Ont. (Google)

A new, smaller team is beginning work again at CHCH on Monday, after 129 full-time and 38 part-time personalities, reporters and other staff had their jobs terminated on Friday. 

Kate Carnegie, Bob Cowan and Annette Hamm are among the personalities who've already signaled they'll rejoin the Hamilton-based station as it restructures. 

John McKenna, whose title was executive producer for news, posted two photos from the newsroom Monday morning.

News coverage was abruptly cancelled Friday for that evening and the rest of the weekend as the news station's parent company announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection. 

Beginning Monday, CHCH will broadcast 17.5 hours of local news every week, said Chris Fuoco, vice president of sales and marketing for Channel Zero, CHCH's parent company. That's a significant drop from 80 hours per week broadcast before Friday's restructuring announcement.

On Friday, 129 full-time and 38 part-time employees were let go.

Fuoco told CBC News on Sunday that the new company that will provide news service to CHCH TV had offered jobs to 58 full-time and 23 part-time employees, with the same compensation and "substantially similar" benefits as the previous company.

Fuoco said he didn't have a tally yet, but that some people already have accepted the offers. 

"Some made their decisions very quickly," Fuoco said. "Naturally people have needed some time to reflect and think about it. There was a lot of sadness, and so we're giving people time. But as I say, we've seen a large number come back."

The channel plans to broadcast a two-hour version of its Morning Live show from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., as well as an hour-long news broadcast at 6 p.m. and a half-hour news broadcast at 11 p.m. The new evening shows are scheduled to begin Monday, while the new Morning Live is slated for Tuesday morning. 

Shows including Sportsline, Square Off, live daytime news and the early edition of Morning Live have been cancelled.

'There is a crisis in local broadcasting'

The sudden, deep cuts were talked about all over town over the weekend, online and off. Several journalists and staff from the station used Twitter to thank audiences in the Hamilton region for their support and for watching CHCH over the years. 

Reporter and former frequent weekend anchor Kate Carnegie announced on Twitter that she would return to the station Monday as a reporter. The weekend edition of the news has been cancelled.

A Twitter account for the Morning Live show said that Bob Cowan and Annette Hamm would be among those on the show's team. 

Longtime reporter and on-air personality Donna Skelly told CBC News on Friday she is among those who have lost their jobs. That list also includes well-known names such as Matt Hayes, who spent 33 years at the station, Scot Urquhart, who worked there for 35 years and Lauran Sabourin, who told the St. Catharines Standard she'd been "kicked to the curb" after 30 years with the station. 

Fuoco said the cuts stemmed in part from the end of federal funding over the last few years in the form of the Local Programming Improvement Fund. That was a subsidy created to help smaller TV channels survive the economic downturn and declining advertising market.

"There is a crisis in local broadcasting in smaller centres around the country — Hamilton would be the largest of those centres," said Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. "It's a warning of things to come."   

Fuoco said, "Fundamentally, there's something wrong with local broadcasting in Canada and we need to have a dialogue and look for long-term fixes for it."

'Needlessly insensitive treatment'

While Unifor, the union that represented CHCH employees, said the funding issue is important to acknowledge, so is the company's treatment of the workers. 

The union said staff worked to prepare Friday's evening newscasts even as rumours were swirling around the station about the coming cuts. Unexpected deposits in employees' bank accounts reportedly tipped off some workers to the coming announcement.

"The company's needlessly insensitive treatment of its loyal staff is equally disturbing," reads a Unifor statement published Saturday

"The people hurt by this decision have dedicated their careers to telling local stories to their community," said Unifor National President Jerry Dias in the statement. "And like all workers in such difficult circumstances, they deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy."

Fuoco said workers were paid out any accrued vacation, expense reimbursements and regular pay on Friday, and he said no employee received less than $4,000. He said the future of a relationship between CHCH News and a union "remains to be seen."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

With files from Samantha Craggs and Canadian Press


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