Nova Scotia

The Chronicle Herald contacts freelancers ahead of possible work stoppage

Canada's largest independent daily newspaper is preparing to keep producing the news during a strike or lockout that could arrive within two weeks.

Email offers 'full time contracts of up to four months,' work from home without bylines

The Chronicle Herald is preparing for a possible strike or lockout. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

The Chronicle Herald has contacted freelance journalists and recent graduates to replace reporters during a possible work stoppage.

A late November email from Herald management, provided to CBC News by one of the freelancers, asks if the journalist would be interested in "freelancing more regularly" for the weeklies or "writing for the daily."

"That need could grow soon as we are in the middle of labour negotiations that may end in a strike or lockout before the end of the year," the paper's vice president of news, Brian Ward, wrote in the email.

The email offers "full time contracts of up to four months" should there be a work stoppage.

"People would generally work from their homes and we would publish without bylines," the email said. 

Ward declined a CBC News request for comment on Tuesday. Nancy Cook, vice-president of administration and a spokesperson for the paper during negotiations, did not respond to interview requests.

The email said the freelancer could work full time, file the occasional freelance piece or "bow out entirely if there is a work stoppage."

"Any option is fine," the email said.

'Anticipating a long, drawn out' dispute

A lead negotiator for the Halifax Typographical Union, which represents 61 newsroom staff, said hiring replacement workers is typical.

"It seems to me at first blush they're anticipating a long-drawn-out labour dispute with the newsroom employees," said Dave Wilson, a representative of parent union CWA.

"Quite frankly, it could go longer unless the employer comes to it senses … They have to know we're not going to acquiesce to 99 per cent of the proposals that they're asking for."

Wilson and other union staff said management wants wages slashed by around 17 per cent and a third of the newsroom cut, including editors and photographers. It also wants to remove the gender parity clause in the collective agreement, and make more than 200 individual changes. 

Hiring temporary or permanent replacement workers during a work stoppage is legal in Nova Scotia.

The Herald is offering anonymity through no bylines and the ability to work from home, but Wilson said that won't last. 

"You still have to do the story and eventually your name is going to get out there because you have to talk to somebody. You have to interview somebody," Wilson said. 

"The Herald is just using you to meet its goal and when you're done you're toast."

Recent King's grads approached

Three recent graduates of the journalism school at the University of King's College have contacted professors at King's for advice after being approached by the Herald, school director Kelly Toughill said Tuesday.

Without telling them what to do, Toughill said she informed the graduates of the ramifications of such work, which as new reporters they may not understand. 

"That's something that will follow them for a very long time, and could make it difficult for them to get jobs elsewhere. My experience has been people who do that in journalism tend to be a little bit of a pariah in the journalism community," Toughill said.

"Some people may passionately believe this is the right thing to do for political reason or they may have personal and financial reasons, but they should think right now about what their story will be for many years to come if they chose to virtually cross the picket line."

The Herald newsroom union will hold a strike vote on Saturday. Two final days of conciliation talks are scheduled for Jan. 20 and 21. A work stoppage, either strike or lockout, is possible Jan. 23.