By Robert Devet
Sydney, Cape Breton, has always been a union town, and it shows, says local Chronicle Herald reporter Tom Ayers.
Ayers, who has worked as a Cape Breton reporter for well over a decade, and has been with the Herald for two years, is on strike. With his two colleagues he can be found walking the picket line on George Street most mornings.
“The support has been fantastic. It really opened my eyes to the huge amount of support there is in Cape Breton for unions,” Ayers tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“Unions have been there for us. We get tons of people driving by and honking. We get lots of people stopping by with a tray of coffee or cookies, people drop off homemade muffins, people give us the thumbs up, tons and tons of support.”
Even the mayor stopped by with coffee this morning, Ayers adds.
The Chronicle Herald has been expanding its presence in Cape Breton over the last two years or so.
The company now publishes a free weekly for the Cape Breton market. Content is provided by non-unionized freelancers. Its operation is entirely separate from the newsroom.
And whereas there used to be only one reporter for all of Cape Breton, working from home, there is now a Sydney bureau with three unionized journalists.
As well, the Cape Breton edition of the Herald now has its own press run, rather than being part of the provincial edition.
“The Chronicle Herald has made a big investment in Cape Breton and we appreciate that. It’s the right thing to do,” Ayers says.
Which makes the current labour dispute all the more disappointing.
“We are on the picket line because our employer picked this fight. They left us no choice.” Ayers says. “Management told us that they would lock us out unless we accepted this contract, without any concessions.”
The new contract offer carves up the newsroom, Ayers argues, moving out what the Herald calls backroom processes, the work done by editors, page editors and photographers.
“If we were to allow that to happen, then there would be no point in having a union, because sometime later they could do the same thing to the journalists,” says Ayers.
Ayers takes issue with the notion that the Herald workers are fighting a losing battle, print journalists being a dying breed.
“We all know that the world is changing. It is not the same newspaper business we got into a number of years ago,” Ayers says.
“But the proper way to deal with that is to invite the employees in. The owners haven’t set out any kind of vision as to how to change things. I am not sure any of us has such a vision, but to resolve that we need to sit down and talk about it, and come up with a plan that works for everybody.”
Ayers will do what it takes to get the Herald owners to understand that, he says.
“We’re doing fine. Of course we’re not happy to be out there, nobody wants to be on the picket line, nobody wants to be standing there in the cold.
“We’d much rather be doing our jobs, writing stories, taking pictures, and talking to people in the community about things that matter.
“But we are united with our newsroom colleagues. We want principled journalism, we want the Chronicle Herald to be successful, we want to do good work, and we just want to be respected for that.”
The HTU is asking subscribers to cancel their subscriptions, including flyer deliveries. In Metro: call 902-426-3031, anywhere else in Nova Scotia call 1-800-565-3339 (toll-free).
This story was first published on The Nova Scotia Advocate