Media

Chronicle Herald employees take to picket line as layoff notices issued

Hours into the strike, 18 of 61 union employees received layoff notices

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Halifax Typographical Union employees block both entrances to the Chronicle Herald.   Jeff Toth

At 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, 61 employees of the Chronicle Herald went on strike. Before lunch, 18 of them had been sent layoff notices.

One of those notices went to Tom McCoag, a page editor and 33-year veteran of the paper.

“It’s a calculated move on their part,” said McCoag. “It’s an attempt to divide and conquer. They’re hoping that somebody will break ranks and go to work.”

The members of the Halifax Typographical Union have shown solidarity, voting 59-to-one in favour of striking.

“This is an attempt to break the union. They don’t want the union there,” said McCoag.

Some of the layoff notices, including McCoag’s, came with offers for restructured jobs.

“The job they offered me to go back to — at $20,000 a year less than I would be making now — is a non-union job. And no protection? Of any kind? No thank you,” said McCoag.

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Union employees bundled up to withstand the cold on Saturday.   Jeff Toth

At midnight, the Herald’s web editor Gordie Sutherland left the building with a garbage bag filled with his personal possessions.

“You collect a lot over time,” said Sutherland, who didn’t receive a layoff notice. “You start to think, ‘I’m leaving tonight.’ And really not knowing if you’re gonna be back…It’s hard.”

Sutherland hopes the public will understand why they are striking.

“We had to strike out of defence to avoid working conditions being imposed upon us that were dramatically different than what we had been doing before,” said Sutherland.

“When people think about strikes, they think you’re out there demanding ‘we want something.’ We’re very much in protection mode,” said Sutherland.

Chronicle Herald president & CEO Mark Lever has not yet responded to a request for comment. Management, however, released a statement Saturday.

In the statement, Herald COO Ian Scott says the union has refused to consider concessions to deal with the “excruciating” economics of the news business.

“The industry is reeling from the effects of online news and declines in ad revenue,” he states. “The union had refused to offer anything.”

He also stated the company offered to let the union employees continue working during negotiations “under the interim contract terms.”

“We have tried to be as compassionate and caring as possible,” Scott stated.

Passing motorists offered supportive honks and waves to the protesters.

Gourmet burgers were sent to the picket line from celebrity chef Ray Bear.

Messages of support went up on social media.

The Chronicle Herald’s Twitter account took a break from posting news stories to offer an opinion on the situation.

Even while on strike, the employees plan to keep covering the news by launching their own publication called the Local Xpress.

“It’s still in the planning stages,” said union vice-president Frank Campbell.

Campbell said its aim would be, “to display the talents of our 61 reporters, editors, photographers and support staff. And we would do that by writing stories and taking pictures.”