Heather Dennis
Heather Dennis

Talks between the Halifax Typographical Union and The Halifax Herald have for the third time in nine months broken down, escalating frustration of all concerned. The 56 members of the union have reported they were told by Herald negotiator Ian Scott that if they don’t capitulate to the company’s terms they will be out on the sidewalk until Christmas of 2017.

The failure of the company and the union to find a workable solution is emblematic of the changing of the guard at the paper. There’s a stark contrast between the humanistic value system of my father Graham Dennis, who guided the Chronicle Herald for almost 60 years as publisher, and the new management team led by Mark Lever, who took over five years ago.

The company has self-professed union buster litigator Grant Machum as its counsel; has Mark Lever issuing printed editorial missives that attempts to convince readers that the company is the reasonable party in this conflict; and has the support of the provincial liberal government, which has refused to interfere through legal mechanisms at their disposal that could help bring both sides to a reasonable resolution.

The union has steadily gained public support for the workers’ plight, but we can only speculate whether the union’s continuing campaign to encourage readers to cancel their subscriptions and for businesses to stop advertising has made a large enough dent in Chronicle Herald profits to budge company management towards reconciliation. I recently asked a spokesperson in union management whether they had a way of measuring the buying habits of fellow union members across the province and was told they had no means of doing that. But if the union could provide a figure of how many Nova Scotian union members have discontinued their subscriptions, it might be a sobering statistic that the union could bring to the table to advance its cause.

In the world of Twitter and Facebook the Halifax Typographical Union has waged a public relations war that even if the company wins the battle and busts the union, it may not ever recover from the bad will that has been generated from keeping 56 people on the picket line for nearly a year. The human cost of this conflict is enormous and the financial toll has yet to be calculated. The strike is one of the longest in the history of labour disputes in Nova Scotia.

The Chronicle Herald can hardly lay claim to be Nova Scotia’s paper of record, and its warts of bad editing, spelling mistakes, and focus on custom content rather than journalism are called out regularly by the union’s outreach on social media. The union is also fast to point out the company’s hypocrisy — Mark Lever calls for the creation of more jobs in Nova Scotia while he contracts the editing and page layout to Pagemakers, a company based in Toronto.

The union has also says that the money spent by the company on security, litigation and lost business is bad management of funds, given the company’s claim it is in a financially precarious position.

The company has the advantage of high priced lawyers and accountants who create a sea of confusion and obfuscation about whether the company is indeed financially strapped.

The union has won the sympathies of not only the over 100,000 unionized workers in the province but also every father, mother, child, aunt, uncle and cousin of every person who walks the picket line.

As its employees walk the picket line at Christmas, the company is at the same time sponsoring the Holiday Parade of Lights parade through downtown Halifax. Talk about tone deaf.

I fear for both sides. While they are butting heads trying to figure out who deserves the remaining crumbs of a dying industry, I fear there is a high speed train of disruption aimed straight at them that could make the company obsolete and ensure that the members of the union never see a dime of the compensation they are fighting for.

The classifieds literally disappeared overnight. Can you spell Kijiji? The disruption coming will be even bigger, and I fear neither the company nor the union is ready for it.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Her father’s legacy, my ass. When Graham Dennis was in charge, the Chronicle-Herald and it’s afternoon edition, the Mail-Star, were widely regarded as the worst newspapers in Canada. A Senate Committee on the newspaper industry specifically called it out as such.

    In particular, they were reviled by progressives, the same political class that today promotes the fantasy of a Golden Age under Graham Dennis.

    The paper got much better in recent years, under the leadership of Jane Purves and Sarah Dennis, but for the love of Pete, stop bullshitting us about Graham Dennis’s legacy.

  2. Old media is dead, except as the personal blogs of various oligarchs. The future is social media and small media like the Examiner.

    The Chronicle Herald was a good newspaper for longer than many, and now it’s irrelevant.

  3. I actually feel sorry for all sides because we all have a stake in this one! There is a lot on the line for sure! I support those out on the line because it is their work and I’m a Union brother in support. I also support because they are my eyes and ears on the ground, and I want to know what’s going on in our province from a source that I can trust. I know the Herald is also in a very tough spot that may have been speeded up by their choices made over the last year, but at the end of the day if there is not cooperation and a genuine effort made so both parties can shape the future of the business, as my grandfather once said. ” I saw the last steam engine that ever rolled down these tracks around here!”

  4. It is good to know that at least one of the Dennis family is appalled at what is happening with the Chronicle Herald. Thank you for speaking out on this. Maybe your sister will come to her senses before she has lost every customer and every advertiser.

  5. Well said, Heather. Current Herald management must be SO PROUD of destroying Graham’s legacy. Sarah should be ashamed of capitulating to her husband;s bullying tactics.