Ottawa Citizen, Sun workers staring down potential lockout

Postmedia is promising to lock out employees at the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun newspapers by the middle of next week if they fail to accept a new contract.

Members meeting to decide to vote on contract on Sunday

After two-and-a-half years of negotiations, unionized workers at the Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen could be locked out this week if they don't vote in favour of a new contract. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Employees at the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun newspapers could be locked out by the middle of next week if they fail to accept a new contract.

After two-and-a-half years of negotiations, union members are expected to meet Sunday to decide to vote in favour of the contract or send it back to the table.

Their last contract expired in November 2015. 

At first, Postmedia Network Canada Corp. said it would lock out employees Monday morning if they didn't vote or rejected the offer.

However, voting has been extended after the union asked that people on out-of-town assignment or vacation be allowed to vote Wednesday. 

If the final offer is rejected, the company will lock out all members of the union effective at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, said Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia's vice-president of communications, in an email. 

Lois Kirkup, vice-president of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild and the Canadian branch of the Communications Workers of America, said employees have already made concessions on their pension plan, saving the company millions of dollars.

They have also given up some vacation and maternity top-up, Kirkup said, and all they want is to keep their benefit plan the way it is.

'We want to do our jobs'

"That's the issue that hits me hard and hits my heart, because it's just not fair," said Kirkup. "It's scary to tell you the truth."

"It's terrible. We want to do our jobs. We don't want a labour dispute, but what we want is a fair contract," she added. 

Ottawa Newspaper Guild vice-president Lois Kirkup says newspaper employees feel bullied by Postmedia's threats that the company will lock them out if they don't accept the contract. 0:35

Kirkup said both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun are understaffed because of downsizing imposed by Postmedia over the years.

"We have been taking hits over the last few years. We have not had a pay increase since 2012," said Kirkup, noting that all the other locals within Postmedia have had some sort of increase in that timeframe. 

63 union members at newspapers

There are 63 union members at the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun, which operate out of the same newsroom.

That includes people working in the newsroom, as well as staff in building maintenance, reader sales and service, financial service, and in-house printing. 

Kirkup said she doesn't know how the vote will go. There's a strong contingency of members who are very angry and do not feel the deal is fair, she said, but there are others that are frightened. 

She said Postmedia's threat to lock out the newspapers' employees if they didn't agree to the deal left them feeling "bullied."

"It was a shock. It was very disappointing. My members are angry and scared, as they should be, right? And that was their tactic. It was to scare people into voting for a really lousy deal," said Kirkup.   

'We want a fair deal'

Kirkup said people should know the next step in negotiations by Wednesday around 6 p.m.

She said if the company locks employees out, members of the Montreal Newspaper Guild — which includes employees at the Montreal Gazette — are prepared to walk out in solidarity. 

"We love our jobs. We are so dedicated. We don't want to not go to work," Kirkup said.

"We want to go to work, but we want a fair deal and we feel that with [Postmedia CEO] Paul Godfrey getting a 30 per cent wage increase [and] bonuses for the last few years ... we're not asking for much."

The Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen will continue to publish throughout any labour disruption, according to Postmedia. 

Kirkup said there are managers who could carry on some duties, but readers will notice that no local reporters are appearing in the papers.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.