Nova Scotia

Labour minister defends article in striking Chronicle Herald

The newsroom union filed a complaint to Labour Minister Kelly Regan alleging Chronicle Herald management intends to remove the union and not negotiate a contract.

Union asks Labour Board to investigate if management actually intends to negotiate

Chronicle Herald newsroom staff have been on strike for almost 10 months. Its union has filed a complaint about what it calls bad faith bargaining by management. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The labour minister is being criticized for penning an article that appeared in the Chronicle Herald when the newspaper is in the midst of a strike and she has been called on to intervene.

The article touting provincial subsidies for recent graduates appeared Tuesday, just a day after striking workers lodged a complaint, through her, to the Labour Board about the company's management.

The Herald's newsroom staff have been on strike since late January. Contract negotiations between management and the Halifax Typographical Union have stalled multiple times.

The union has called on Labour Minister Kelly Regan to help move negotiations along, but she declined to get involved.

"She knows that we feel the company's dealing unfairly with us," union vice-president Frank Campbell said Wednesday of Regan.

"In light of that, to have something she wrote in the newspaper seems questionable at least."

Labour Minister Kelly Regan says she has refrained from submitting opinion pieces to the Herald. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Tuesday's article was published in a section called Business Voice, which is sponsored by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

Regan was in Ottawa Wednesday and declined an interview, but in an email said the article was written in early September. Her spokeswoman said the province did not pay to run the article.

Regan said she has not submitted opinion pieces to the Herald during the labour dispute.

The union's Labour Board complaint, sent Monday to Regan, alleges Herald management intends to remove the union and not negotiate a contract.

Regan has agreed to pass on the complaint to the Labour Board for investigation, Campbell said.

'Made to be rejected'

The Chronicle Herald is Canada's oldest independently owned newspaper, and has said for months it must make changes as it is struggling financially.

Management has asked for a variety of contract changes — from wages to pensions — but the sticking point has been union jurisdiction.

In his Nov. 14 letter to the minister, union lawyer Sean FitzPatrick said the management proposal is "tailor-made to be rejected." He argued management's offer and behaviour breaches Section 35 of the Trade Union Act, which says both sides must be willing to try to reach an agreement.

Frank Campbell, Halifax Typographical Union vice president, says the article by the labour minister is questionable. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Chronicle Herald management has proposed making layout, design, pagination and print editing jobs non-union positions, and laying off all current staff in those jobs, the complaint said. The union said it agreed to decrease wages and allow for people to be newly hired for most of those jobs, provided the positions stay within the union.

Management also wants to be able to decide what work can be done by non-union staff, and have the right to lay off employees regardless of seniority. So far, it wants to move assignment, news and business editors, as well as bureau chiefs, out of the union, the complaint said.

Fewer union members

This would mean fewer people in the union and less authority for the union — on top of 26 of 55 members losing their jobs, the complaint said.

The Chronicle Herald did not reply to a request for an interview.

The union wants the Labour Board to order Herald management to rescind layoff notices and remove clauses dealing with removing certain roles from the union.

Chronicle Herald newsroom staff, which has been on strike for almost 10 months, faces losing 26 colleagues if they go back to work, the union says. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters Wednesday that the province continues to advertise in the Herald, despite the labour dispute. He said it has also taken out ads in the news outlet run by striking workers, Local XPress, which editor Pam Sword confirmed by email.

"We advertise and that because many people in rural communities still use the paper as their main medium for news," McNeil said.

"We want to see that strike come to a resolution ... but we have a responsibility to try to connect with as many Nova Scotians as we can."

The article, which appears Tuesday under Kelly Regan's name, was printed in a section of the Chronicle Herald published by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The union understands the province has an obligation to run notices in the paper, but questions Regan's involvement, Campbell said.

"Are you taking sides in this dispute? The message to us is that she probably is," he said.

The Labour Board, which is independent from the minister, will likely take at least a few weeks to come to a decision on the union's complaint, Campbell said.

Read the letter to the labour minister:

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Read the complaint from the union:

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Read the proposed contract:

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With files from Paul Palmeter