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Anthony Grimes/The Gauntlet

Herald strike goes blue collar

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With the onset of summer temperatures comes increasing tensions in the Calgary Herald labour dispute, now approaching its 200th day.

On May 5, Herald management locked out approximately 105 members of the Graphic Communications International Union Local 34m. The press operators joined roughly 150 Herald newsroom and distribution centre employees already on strike since Nov. 8.

The press operators are striking for a number of reasons, said GCIU President John Webster.

"This is a paper that posted profits of $38 million last year," he said. "It's a booming economy. They claim they're making money, they claim ad lineage is up, they claim their revenues are up. So if this is true, why would they table a contract full of concessions? Why would they be asking for wage roll-backs in some areas? Why would they be asking for an additional day added to our workweeks?"

Herald Publisher Dan Gaynor said management's last offer was fair and the two sides are far apart. He adds the Herald was not affected by the journalists' strike and will not be affected by the press-operators' strike.

"The newspaper, in terms of the quality, has never been better," he said. "Readership is very strong. The strike is putting no commercial pressure on the newspaper whatsoever. Any frustration we have is just the intransigence of two unions that don't seem prepared to write modern contracts. But internally, morale's very high."

He said the Herald will continue to print mostly unaffected by the lockout of the press-workers.

"We're less than two percentage points off last year's circulation," he said. "Advertising's actually up--up last month 6 per cent over last year."

CEP Local 115a President Andy Marshall disagreed with those figures.

"We got an independent company from Vancouver to do a recent survey and that showed readership was down between 20-25 per cent," said Marshall. "The company has testified at a hearing... that there is a noticeable impact in terms of cancelled subscriptions."

Webster pointed at quality of the Herald, listing ink coverage and the colour in the ads as problems.

"They've had quite a few problems because [of] their highly paid, undertrained scab force," said Webster. "Certainly, we monitor the quality and the quality sucks."

He added that advertisers complained to GCIU about the poor quality of the ads.

According to Marshall, the addition of the press-operators to the picket line has bolstered CEP's position.

"With the addition of 105 warm bodies, the morale on the line has increased ten-fold," he said. "People who thought they were burning out suddenly got this new burst of energy and enthusiasm. Of course, [the press-operators] bring a new energy to our strike efforts. More stress is on the company. The company is clearly hurting."

Gaynor contends replacement Herald workers are performing admirably and are not affected by virtually round-the-clock picketing.

"There are specific incidents which are problematic, but they tend to be more isolated or periodic and day-to-day picket line routine has been fairly civil," he said. "The paper was a little late the first three or four days of the lockout, but after that it's come out on time virtually every day."

Neither side sees an end to the dispute soon.

"Our negotiator had been in touch with the employer's negotiator and he said there was no change in their position and there was no need to talk," said Webster. "So unless the current management substantially changes its tune, I don't see this ending any time soon."

Marshall agreed.

"Certainly, we, the journalists, have been open to the idea of going back for meaningful talks. Several more informal approaches were made during April, but they were all rebuffed. The company indicated absolutely no interest in talking."

To Gaynor, the onus on ending the strike lies with the unions.

"It's really up to the GCIU when and if they want to return to the bargaining table and when and if they're prepared to do some productive bargaining," he said. "The same standard applies to CEP" Gaynor stressed management has been quite clear since the onset of the strike that there won't be productive bargaining until CEP drops their request for a seniority clause.

In the meantime, the strike drags on with no end in sight, now bolstered by the presence of the press-operators. Marshall said he believes the main issue for both unions is one of respect.

"We believe by locking out production people in this way, the company has shown its utter contempt for yet another group of its employees and, by endangering production, it's shown contempt for readers and advertisers too."

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