91% of unionized Ottawa Citizen, Sun newsroom staff vote for strike mandate

Newspapers

Staff at Ottawa’s two major daily newspapers have voted 91.3 per cent in favour of giving their union a mandate to strike against employer Postmedia, according to a union representative.

The Ottawa Newspaper Guild, which represents approximately 250 employees at the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun as well as CTV Ottawa, has been without an agreement with Postmedia since November 2015.

Guild president Debbie Cole, a data analyst at the Citizen, says negotiations recently hit an impasse and members wanted to send a strong message ahead of conciliation meetings with the employer slated for June 20 and 21.

“They haven’t addressed any of the things we want, and all they’re asking for are concessions,” she told OBJ. “We just wanted to make sure they will take us seriously when we do get to conciliation.”

Ms. Cole said one of the main sticking points is employee pensions. She said Postmedia is seeking to shift all employees to a defined-contribution plan – in which employers pay out pension benefits from a pool of money that varies in size depending on an employee’s length of service and the retirement fund’s performance – from a defined-benefit plan that guarantees a set level of retirement income. She said the company also wants to reduce its own contribution from five per cent of salaries to three per cent.

Union members are also hoping to protect a job security provision for editorial staff and avoid having their sick leave shifted to a third-party administrator with only the first five days at full pay.

“We just wanted to make sure the company was aware of exactly how awful our members find these concessions,” Ms. Cole said. “We haven’t had a raise since 2013, they’re not proposing any in the coming contract and we’ve had our staff cut and cut and cut. People are just working harder and harder, and this is just too much.”

Under the agreement that expired in 2015, a reporter’s starting salary is about $53,000, rising to $76,600 after five years, while a copy editor starts at just over $59,000 before topping out at nearly $79,000 after five years.

In recent months, Postmedia has continued to cut jobs in the wake of declining revenues. The company laid off six employees at the Sun and Citizen in January and most recently eliminated more than 50 positions at its B.C. papers.

Revenue for the Toronto-based media firm was $180.3 million in its most recent quarter, a decrease of 13.5 per cent year-over-year. The company also posted a loss of $26.5 million, or 28 cents per share.

Wednesday’s vote authorizes a strike only as a last resort. A strike or lockout can happen only if conciliation meetings later in the month fail to reach a deal.

"We are hopeful that an agreement can be reached,"  said Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia's vice-president of communications.