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Halifax journalists defy lockout threat with 98.3% strike vote

Newsroom staff on Saturday countered a lockout threat at the Chronicle Herald with a 98.3-per-cent strike vote. The union hopes the show of solidarity will get the company back to the table with some reasonable proposals.

“This vote is a strong condemnation of the Chronicle Herald’s bullying approach to labour relations,” Ingrid Bulmer, president of the Halifax Typographical Union (HTU), said in a news release. “Their promise to lock us out and their clear attempt to destroy the newsroom union is unacceptable.”

Survival of quality journalism is at stake at the largest independent newspaper in Canada. Management has revealed its plan to cut almost its entire editing staff and offer some of them low-paid, non-unionized jobs in its advertorial department so it can continue to cut news coverage and increase “sponsored content” in its publications.

The company, in an unusual move in Nova Scotia labour relations, issued a lockout notice on Jan. 11 before conciliation had concluded.

Even with last-ditch conciliation talks scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday and with Herald CEO Mark Lever writing in a newspaper ad published Saturday that he has never planned to lock out the workers, staff have been asked to turn in their equipment by Friday at 4 p.m. Both sides will be in a legal lockout or strike position at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23.

“We don’t want a work stoppage,” said David Wilson, staff representative with CWA Canada, the Local’s parent union. “We want to work with the company to hammer out a fair agreement that works for both sides and protects quality journalism.”

The HTU represents 61 reporters, photographers, editors, writers and support staff in its editorial bargaining unit; 60 cast ballots on Saturday, with only one member voting against giving the bargaining team a strike mandate.

The company went into negotiations before Christmas with a draconian proposal that would see it chop wages, abandon the pension plan, gut the contract and lay off 18 staff, including all photographers and most editors.

Lever’s recent claims to the contrary, the Herald began preparations for a lockout weeks ago. Managers have been trying to enlist journalism students and freelancers to scab in the event of a work stoppage.

When the HTU held a one-day byline strike last week, the company seized the opportunity to shield scabs from public scrutiny by “indefinitely” withholding all bylines and photo credits.

Martin O’Hanlon, president of CWA Canada, said freelancers and recent journalism grads should think twice before agreeing to do the work of someone on a picket line.

”Our message to young journalists considering working as scabs is not that we will identify and shame you, it is that we are fighting for your future so that you can have a decent job and a chance to do quality journalism.

“Journalists around the world are being killed for defending their principles and standing up for truth and justice. Anyone who chooses to start a career by abandoning their principles is betraying their colleagues, their profession and their humanity,” said O'Hanlon.