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Rabinovitch reveals his weaknesses in CBC radio interview

By Lise Lareau
CMG National President

How does an organization move beyond a disastrous 8-week lockout, when its president and CEO refuses to acknowledge that it was wrong? When his reasons for the lockout just don’t add up? More importantly, how can a more positive and progressive relationship between union and management begin when that same president suggests he needs more of what he didn’t get through the lockout? Those are key questions raised in the interview CBC president Robert Rabinovitch gave on CBC Radio’s “The Current” last Monday.

Rabinovitch suggested that he had no choice but impose a lockout. “We had a very clear announcement of an 87% strike vote,” he told Anna Maria Tremonti, “and ads in the paper saying that the union said it would strike over these issues.” So, according to Rabinovitch it came down to a “question of timing” — let the union pick the timing of its strike or foil their strategy with a pre-emptive lockout.

His statement is entirely misleading because CBC management orchestrated the timing itself. The corporation forced the August 15 deadline by filing for conciliation in May. That also forced the union into taking a strike vote. Ironically, that same strike vote turned out to be inconsequential because it’s becoming clear that a lockout plan was well in play at least as early as the June meeting of the CBC’s Board of Directors. So blaming any action on the strike vote is specious and unfounded.

More unsettling was Rabinovitch’s response to Tremonti’s question about whether he would do it again. “Knowing what I know now, nothing has changed,” he said. “We were still looking at a situation where the negotiations were not moving forward, but were stalled.”

The reason talks were “stalled” is the Guild side would not capitulate to a major concessionary demand. CBC management was demanding an infinite number of contract employees in many job categories. It stuck to that demand once the lockout was underway and, though there was a hint of movement, into the final weekend.

What’s so sad is that the collective agreement we negotiated after 7 weeks of lockout is one that could have been negotiated with every CMG member still at work. Had the 9.5% cap on contract employees been presented 18 months ago, it would have formed the basis for an agreement, with no disruption at all. If Rabinovitch doesn’t see the waste and loss in this, then something is seriously wrong.

Instead of moving forward and telling the Canadian public about his vision for a renewed CBC, he once again paints a picture of a corporation that’s bloated, saying the CBC is still “not as flexible as I would like it to be,” when we all know that the opposite is true. CBC employees ? flexible to a fault ? have adapted and adjusted to more types of work, technologies and media lines than anyone in the industry.

Then there’s the subtle dig at unions in general. Answering a question about his record of one strike and three lockouts, Rabinovitch said: “This organization is 90% unionized. The BBC is 44% unionized.” One must ask why this is relevant. But it’s also extremely misleading. According to the National Union of Journalists, about 80% of the journalistic part of the BBC is unionized, as is most of the technical staff. There are areas of the BBC that are not unionized (finance and administration, for example) but those are not areas Rabinovitch is referring to when discussing flexibility to create programmes. So why drag out the numbers?

And then there were other comments in which his most basic judgment has to be questioned. “I was very proud of the quality of programming we were able to put on the air (during the lockout).” Misinformation does not heal the wounds of a lockout.

Lastly, this lockout was avoidable. It was the work of a team of senior managers who knew what they wanted, whether or not it was something that was really needed by the CBC and the people who put on programmes. And they were willing to take extraordinary risks with a Canadian institution to get it. Put another way, “flexibility” is really about management’s ability to control who works, and where. And about who can make which decisions. It’s all about control. Notably, it was the quest to control the bargaining process rather than work within it that led to Rabinovitch’s defeat in this lockout.

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