As It Happens

Chronicle Herald journalist describes 'mixed bag' of emotions after 19 month labour dispute ends

Pam Sword has a lot of feelings about going back to work at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
Pam Sword, right, on the picket line with her daughter Emma. (Trevor Beckerson/Foundry Photography/CHU-UNIFOR)

Story transcript

Pam Sword has a lot of feelings about going back to work at Halifax's Chronicle Herald.

"It's a real mixed bag of things," Sword told As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton. "There's some happiness there. Relief. A big bucket of sad goes in there, too, because half the people ... they won't be going back to the Herald."

The protracted, nearly 19-month labour dispute at Canada's largest independently owned daily newspaper is over after striking workers voted 94 per cent in favour of a new contract at a meeting. Read more about the deal at CBC Halifax.

Sword, who headed up the online strike publication LocalXPress, spoke with Barton about the strike and how she feels about heading back to the office on Tuesday. Here is part of their conversation.

You have to go back into the newsroom working alongside some of the people that were there while you were picketing. How are you feeling about that?

I'm not going to think about that until it happens because we were obviously angry at them while we were on strike and, you know, I'm sure they didn't like us.

But we're professionals and we're just going to have to work through it. 

Pam Sword front and centre as striking Chronicle Herald workers march. (Trevor Beckerson/Foundry Photography/CHU-UNIFOR)

What can you tell us about the deal?

All along we were expecting a pay cut, and we got it, so we'll be getting about five per cent less. Our work week is a little longer. We're losing our defined benefit pension plan and moving to a union pension plan.

We didn't make any gains at all. We started out with over 60 people when we went out on strike on Jan. 23, 2016, and there's just 25 of us going back.

Given that you made no gains — it certainly doesn't sound like it — do you really feel good about going back? I mean, is this the way you wanted to go back?

I'm a single mom, so I've been living off strike pay. Essentially, I'll have an income now again. 

Being on strike, it's really like being in limbo. If maybe you're laid off from your job, you know you're laid off, and you can go forward and you can look for another job or go back to school or something like that.

It was just kind of 19 months of stress.

What did it do to journalism in Atlantic Canada? Because it must have hurt it in some way.

I was the editor of our strike paper/website LocalXPress. We tried to do what we could but, I mean, people picketed too and had bargaining or other strike duties.

And then [the Herald] didn't have the same amount of staff or people with nearly the experience or depth of knowledge that we did.

So yeah, journalism did take a hit. 

Do you think that the paper will ever be the same after such a long labour dispute?

I think we will have to work hard to help rebuild the reputation and I think the people going back have to be committed to that.

You also are clearly committed to journalism and you want to tell these stories again.

Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, I've been a journalist for over 30 years and it's just kind of in my DNA. 

Striking journalists walk outside the Chronicle Herald building in Halifax on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Staff will head back to work on Tuesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

With files from Canadian Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our interview with Pam Sword. 

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