CBC, union fail to reach deal
TORONTO (CP) – Viewers and listeners across the country tuned in to unfamiliar faces and voices on the airwaves Monday morning after the CBC locked out 5,500 of its workers.
Negotiators for the broadcaster and the Canadian Media Guild could not agree on a contract by the CBC-imposed lockout deadline of 12:01 a.m. ET Monday. Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild, called the lockout a dark day for viewers of Canadian television. “It won’t really be the CBC because the people who are the CBC are outside the doors,” she said.
Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC Television, said the network will rely on contingency plans and the 10 per cent of its workforce that is not unionized to maintain programming.
“The truth is it is still going to be a reasonably interesting service, but it’s not going to be the service we hoped to offer Canadians,” he said.
The lockout will mean local radio morning shows will be replaced by a single national broadcast, and TV newscasts will be pared down, although the network can rely on BBC newscasts for coverage of international events.
Television coverage of sporting events such as CFL games will also have a much different look and sound.
TV content may not be familiar, but the CBC has indicated programming on all services – radio, television and online – will continue.
Union negotiator Arnold Amber said the work stoppage will likely result in “an incredible backlash” from the Canadian public.
“The CBC doesn’t know what’s in store for it,” Amber said from a picket line in front of the CBC building in Toronto shortly after the lockout was announced.
“You don’t suddenly do this and expect the Canadian public to say, ‘Oh isn’t that lovely – I’m not getting any service.’ ”
Lareau said it will be interesting to see how the CBC replaces high-profile personalities like Peter Mansbridge, anchor of The National, the network’s flagship television newscast.
Stursberg would not speculate on who would be filling in for Mansbridge or other well-known personalities for the duration of the lockout.
He said the major sticking point is that the CBC wants the flexibility to hire more non-permanent workers.
Stursberg said the last offer the corporation put forth guaranteed all permanent CBC workers would retain their jobs.
“What stands between us and the union is a theoretical point in the sense that nothing that we have asked for applies to anybody who works here now, in terms of their employment status.”
Stursberg said the CBC is 90 per cent unionized – a rate he said is much higher than in the private broadcasting sector.
“We owe a duty to the Canadian public … who actually pay for the CBC to have a set of arrangements that are not only as effective and as efficient as the private sector, but indeed are more so.”
But Lareau said 30 per cent of the CBC’s workforce is already non-permanent, giving the network all the flexibility it needs.
“We believe the CBC intended this dispute from the outset,” she said. “It’s a very aggressive senior management team, and this was part of the plan.”
Stursberg said the CBC is willing to get back to negotiations at “any time.”
“We are prepared to stay up all night long to get this concluded,” he said.
Amber said it was too early to determine when talks might resume, but said the union also wants to get back to the table.
“Fifty-five hundred members of our union are out,” he said. “We are taking a service away from Canadians across the country. It’s awful.”
Lareau said locked-out workers are hoping to have an Internet presence for the duration of the labour disruption as an alternative to CBC broadcasts.
She said workers will know within a couple of days what types of web programming are possible.
The producers, newsroom staff and technicians have been without a contract for more than a year.
Last month, guild members voted 87.3 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.
Employees in Quebec and Moncton, N.B., belong to different unions and are expected to continue working but not to cross over into Ontario to help out.
The broadcaster’s last major dispute was late in 2001, when technical staff were locked out across the country. In some cases, the sound and lighting was not up to usual standards, newscasts were pared down, and there were plenty of repeats.
ACTRA, the 21,000-member actors’ union, will not perform CBC work during the pending lockout, but that’s not expected to have an immediate impact onscreen since many shows are not currently in production.
CBC, union fail to reach deal