In the harbour
Talks between the union that represents striking Chronicle Herald newsroom employees and the paper’s management broke off yesterday, and the union issued the following press release:
Talks between The Chronicle Herald and its 61 striking newsroom employees broke down Monday when the Herald insisted it wants senior unionized editors moved to a non-union production centre.
After one year at their current rate of pay, the production centre editors would earn $20,000 to $30,000 less annually.
Almost all the editors have been with the company for more than 25 years.
The newsroom unionized in 1999 over two issues: to get rid of a 10-year wage freeze and to eliminate glaring wage disparities like those the Herald wants to bring back.
The company proposal would affect page technicians, copy editors, page designers and the senior design editor.
No further talks are scheduled at this time.
I’ve been musing about a potential Irving takeover of the Chronicle Herald for some time, and that speculation has taken off with Jacques Poitras’s recent blog post on the issue. But an Examiner reader with familiarity with Irving operations thinks that’s wrong:
There are two reasons that a sale would probably not happen any time soon. First is the cash flow position of the [Irvings]. Lumber prices are garbage right now, the shipyard is spending a lot of money on buildings, supplies, and people in the ramp up phase, but most importantly is the Countervailing Duty. Multiple tens of millions per month are currently flowing out the door to the US government due to the infinitely wise decision of the Nova Scotia government to illegally subsidize the Port Hawkesbury mill. Since supercalendered paper from Canada has been deemed to be injuring US business based on these subsidies, all Canadian mills are being punished with a painful duty. It is an absolute bloodbath (I know boohoo for the poor, pitiful billionaires…) that has significantly impacted any spending or investments outside of the Shipyard.
The second reason is pensions. I would hazard a guess that the Chronicle Herald is currently bankrupt, in that its obligations outweigh its assets by a significant margin. If you were to liquidate the company today and attempted to hold back enough to cover the pension obligations of the paper, I’m sure that not only would the pensioners take a haircut, but the Dennises would get nothing. Every day that the owners continue to take cash from the business in the form of dividends or even a salary is a goddamn theft in my opinion. So why would the Irvings pay to take the millstone off the family’s neck? They will wait until the assets (including the offices/press/distribution contracts/distribution contractors/etc.) are available at firesale prices. Seriously though. The Dennises’ plan is to clearly reduce cash operating costs to keep the flow of cash going until the thing goes belly up and then walk away from the pensions. Tell your comrades to stand firm and take every dime they can over the short term while polishing up their resumes.
I went out and spoke with the picketing workers yesterday. They were in good spirits and much appreciated the snacks and coffee that supporters have been bringing by. They’re obviously concerned about an extended strike — strike pay doesn’t pay all the bills, and the uncertainty about the future of their jobs makes it impossible to make long-term plans.
I asked what kind of support would be most useful and was told that supporters might want to consider donating gift cards to the cause. Some of the workers are in two-income homes and will be able to weather the labour disruption comparatively well, but others are single parents or are otherwise in precarious financial straits; a $10 or $20 gift card given to the union would find its way to those with the most need, I was assured.
2. Wellington Street
A revised plan for a proposed Wellington Street apartment building is still entirely out of line with the neighbourhood, said the Districts 7 & 8 Planning Advisory Committee last night.
Dino Developments had previously brought forward a proposal for two connected towers on the site — one 10 storeys, the other eight storeys — which would contain 142 apartments. That proposal was widely condemned by neighbours as out of character with the neighbourhood, and peninsular councillors Waye Mason and Jennifer Watts were opposed. But Mason and Watts were outvoted by suburban councillors both at the community council and regional council levels, and city council ordered staff to move forward with planning revisions that would allow the development to continue through the regulatory process.
Dino’s revised proposal comes after feedback from a public information meeting that criticized the earlier proposal’s proximity to Gorsebrook Park to the west. It sees the two buildings reduced to one, with 10 storeys on the north end and eight storeys on the south, closest to the single family homes on Inglis Street. The number of apartments jumps up to 176. It achieves the increased density through what committee member Michael Bradfield called the “bubble effect”: moving the two buildings away from the park produced just one building that pushes closer to property line to the south. The architect tried to pull back the building a bit by doing away with exterior balconies on the south.
Mason said the proposal was in violation of city rules for tower separation with the 10-storey building to the north — people in the adjoining towers would stare at each other from their respective bedroom windows.
After much discussion, the committee voted on a motion that said it wanted the proposal scaled down significantly — to eight storeys on the north side and just five storeys on the south side — and which required an increased separation — to 75 feet — with the building to the north.
But the Advisory Committee is, well, an advisory committee. Its recommendations now go to staff, who in turn will make a recommendation to the Halifax and West Community Council, and then on to City Council. If the past is any indication, both councils will reject the Advisory Committee’s suggestions.
The committee went on to discuss proposed height changes to the area around Quinpool Road and Robie Streets, but frankly I was too tired to continue to report on the meeting. My sense from talking to committee members on background during a break was that the committee would recommend height limits far lower than requested by developers.
3. How much would you pay to enter New Brunswick?
CBC New Brunswick reported last week:
The New Brunswick government is considering three models for potential highway tolls as a way of wrestling down the provincial debt.
One option being floated is to set up toll booths at eight high–traffic locations on four–lane highways.
Another would be toll booths at the entrances to the province that have four-lanes: Edmundston, Woodstock, St. Stephen and Aulac [on the Nova Scotia border], and the final option is to put the booths near Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.
The toll proposal is concerning people in border towns like Amherst, but premier Stephen McNeil finds himself unable to respond, reports Darrell Cole of the Amherst Citizen-Record:
The premier said he’s concerned with the thought of motorists paying a toll when they cross the border and he does plan to speak to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant about the proposal, but he said it’s not something his government can control.
McNeil said it would be hard for his government to criticize or question New Brunswick’s actions when it has issued its own request for proposals to toll additional highways in Nova Scotia.
Tolling highways makes no sense when gas prices are plummeting — just increase the gas tax to pay for highways and no one would even notice.
4. Yarmouth ferry
Tourism Nova Scotia is marketing the Yarmouth ferry for the season even though there isn’t yet an actual boat, reports the Yarmouth Vanguard’s Tina Comeau.
5. Bear River
1. Bus stops
Halifax has too many bus stops that are too close together, says Erica Butler. (The Bus Stop Theatre can stay.)
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Stephen Archibald has an interesting pictoral history of the big fires that ravaged 19th-century Halifax and the resulting rebuilds that brought the town some of its architectural character. One tiny bit:
Another requirement in the Brick District were iron shutters on sidewall windows. This was to restrict fire from spreading from building to building. The last surviving set of these shutters I’m aware of are preserved on the Robertson Building of the Maritime Museum. (Get the shop boy to close them every night).
3. Cranky letter of the day
This year I attended three New Year’s levees.
The first one was at the Sydney Mines Legion, the second at the North Sydney fire hall and the third, which was hosted by Mayor Cecil Clarke and Lt.-Col. Russell Gallant, at the Sydney Garrison in Victoria Park.
All three levees had great food and music. Everyone who helped in any way deserves a big thank you.
Mrs. Mickey Bushnik, Sydney Mines
Yeah, I know, there’s nothing cranky about that at all.
City council (1pm, City Hall) — the big topic on the agenda is raising taxes to keep the downtown Dartmouth fire station open. As usual, I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
No public meetings.
Thesis defence, Engineering (9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Bizuayehu Muche will defend her thesis, “Effect of 1-Methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) on the Flavour Metabolites of Apple Juice.” It disturbs me that the flavour of apple juice is an engineering problem.
Greenland ice sheet (11:45am, Life Sciences Centre, Room 3655) — Clark Richards will present on “Glacier/ocean interactions in Greenland; taking the pulse of an ice sheet.”
Hector MacLean (3pm, Library LI135) — John Reid, from the History Department, will talk about his new book, Hector Maclean: The Writings of a Loyalist-Era Military Settler in Nova Scotia.
In the harbour
Tosca, car carrier, arrived at Pier 31 this morning from Southampton, England; sails to sea this evening
CMA CGM Don Giovanni, container ship, Port Klang, Malaysia to Pier 42, then sails to sea
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, St. John’s to Pier 41
Acadian, oil tanker, Saint John to Imperial Oil
Goodwood sails to sea
Macao Strait sails to Mariel, Cuba
OOCL Kaohsiung sails to sea
There’s been an uptick in subscriptions lately, and especially since the beginning of the Chronicle Herald strike and the publication of the first in my DEAD WRONG series. None of the new revenue is going to increase my meagre salary; rather, it’s allowing the Examiner to get a little more stable. Tempa Hull starts as the administrative assistant Monday, and I’m in discussions to bring one or possibly two new voices to the site. Your subscription is much appreciated and will result in better coverage.
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Nobody wants to talk about the pension problem at the Herald.
I don’t know if it is because journalists don’t understand pension plan valuations or because they support other journalists and don’t want to provide a fuller explanation of the problem – better to just talk about ‘nasty owners’ and stick to simplistic reporting. The CBC has the resources to provide in-depth coverage of the Herald but seem keen to avoid reporting the substance of the strike.
You’re probably right in asserting that journalists – at least some – may not be familiar with pension plan valuations, or even the subject in general well enough to report on it as it relates to the Herald’s balance sheet and the strike, but that assumes the Herald would release accurate information to them. I’d also question whether CBC does have the resources, intellectual and otherwise, to perform in-depth investigative coverage of the Herald. Finance and pensions are not my bailiwick, to be sure, but I’ve worked for enough corporations over a lifetime to know all is not always as it appears and as they present. If the Herald had/has a pool of union pension contributions, did they use it honestly, ethically, with due diligence? To greatest return? Did they borrow against it or use the invested representative stocks as collateral or loan leverage? Does the union have an accurate accounting of their pension status, and are they willing to release it publicly? A lot of questions with few to no answers, as you state. One thing we “little people,” (using Leona Helmsley’s concept) usually do when we see our financial status negatively changing is take whatever steps possible to mitigate and change/reduce the trajectory. The Herald’s financial distress didn’t happen overnight, yet their responses have been incrementally abrupt and draconian. At the very least, they’ve been financially inept, and poor corporate citizens, disrespectful of the years of loyalty and trust they’ve received from citizens and staff alike.
Well said, Donna. The “well, the pension costs are soaring” argument ignores a lot of stuff, like, well, You made that commitment, are you not going to live up to it? And if not, why should your profits trump the pensioners’ need to, well, survive? Why should workers who paid into a system see their money disappear while owners who made commitments can just walk away? Did you lie? Are owners who suck profit from a company more important than workers who bring value to the company? Etc. Not to mention the reasons why pension funds suddenly became underfunded in the first place– which has exactly ZERO to do with workers and everything to do with the bogus logic of the global finance industry…
When Assets are less than Liabilities a company is Insolvent, not bankrupt. Specifically, it’s called Balance Sheet Insolvency. Though I’m not suggesting any company is or isn’t in that position… just defining the term. Bankruptcy is a legal status sometimes imposed on insolvent companies by courts.
Ahhh… that feels better.
I was trying to retrieve that word from my memory this morning, but the synapses weren’t firing. Thanks.
If a business such as the Chronicle Herald is believed to be bankrupt or in financial straights such that the assets of the C-H are insufficient to cover their debt, why would the banks of whoever they owe, not force them to have a third party financial audit completed and if the owner’s refused such a request, then call in the loans and force a bankruptcy to occur? The chances are that C-H would seek debtors protection while attempting to restructure the business; but at least in the end, the shell game that the owners are playing would be put to rest. If the pensions are not covered today, there is no guarantee that they will be covered if/when then strike is concluded and a new contract is reached. Now is the time to clear the air and know the truth. I do not want to see the employees lose their jobs, but the employees appear to be working and now striking on borrowed time. Better to ensure that C-H has a sustainable future, than to continue to work in an environment of constant fear that the business may implode in the near future.
Mrs. Mickey Bushnik – damn, that’s an awesome name.