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.