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CBC strike moves into second week

North's regional television programming cancelled

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 14/01) - The CBC is trying to break one of the two unions it deals with, says a Yellowknife CBC employee embroiled in a labour dispute that resulted in the cancellation of regional news programming including the North's own Northbeat.

"They are trying to break our union," Allan Gofenko, an audio and graphics technician in Yellowknife, said Wednesday.

"It doesn't look good in terms of length."

On Dec. 7 regional programming stopped after a breakdown of negotiations between the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) and CBC management.

Both sides accuse the other of intransigence.

They can't even agree if the current work stoppage is a lockout or a strike.

"All I can report is that I can't report to work nor can the membership of my local and we are willing to report to work," said Alan Beck, CEP local president. "We are locked out."

Local CBC management referred media queries to the head office in Toronto.

Fred Mattocks, executive director of production and resources for CBC English TV, said the union walked out and the corporation is waiting for them to come back to the table.

"We feel (the current offer on the table) is fair and reasonable," said Mattocks. "We hope they will be back and negotiate a satisfactory agreement."

The CEP represents 1,600 technical staff, including 18 in Yellowknife.

So far no union members have set up pickets in front of the CBC building on Forrest Drive, but Gofenko said to expect picketing soon.

"I think we're waiting for (placards)," he said, noting Yellowknife's bone-chilling weather is also a factor.

Peter Murdoch, vice-president of media for CEP, said signs point to the dispute getting out of control.

He said the corporation is trying to force the union into accepting terms never negotiated.

"Doing things like imposing terms and conditions on employees without negotiating is the kind of thing hard-line anti-union corporations do," said Murdoch. "It is a mean-spirited and provocative tactic."

CBC management ann-ounced on Nov. 29 it would unilaterally apply the terms and conditions of its proposed contract.

Despite the strike-lockout, The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday CBC technicians received $500 yesterday as retroactive pay to June 30 of this year and as incentive to bring negotiations -- ongoing since May -- to a close.

The CBC also said it would be increasing worker's salaries by 1.5 per cent as part of the new contract.

Murdoch said such a move "smelled" like union-busting.

The union said in a Dec. 7 press release that CBC management refuses to soften demands to strip CEP members of the right to take breaks between shifts, replace some full-time workers with part-time workers and a demand of a five per cent reduction in income a year.

The union said it is seeking "wage, pension and job security improvements."

Mattocks said the CBC is trying to gear itself in to face the chaotic media world of today.

"This is not about breaking the union," said Mattocks. "We're revamping our programming and reevaluating our relationship with unions. We were straight up with them. We want to find better ways to manage the resources they represent."

On another front CBC management is asking the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to merge its three bargaining units into one.

The much larger Newspaper Guild Canada (TNG Canada), part of the 750,000-member Washington-based Communications Workers of America (CWA), represents two units of journalists and administrative staff and the CEP one technical unit.

Mattocks said the federal labour board request is not connected to the current dispute.

Gofenko doesn't buy it.

"They are trying to get us to fall in line with the Guild," he said.