By Lise Lareau
Everyone talks about the value of local media. Now’s the time to recognize seven people – five men and two women – who have made a year-long sacrifice so that people can actually afford to work in local media jobs.
On June 25, 2012, these seven began a strike against Halifax-based MBS (Maritime Broadcasting System) Radio, when the company refused to budge significantly on salaries that are about HALF the average in other similar-sized markets, based on the latest CRTC numbers.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of that strike in Saint John. Yes, they are still on strike.
The “Saint John 7” as they’ve been dubbed by both the community and their union, the Canadian Media Guild, make an average of $28K a year. They are announcers, talented people who are well known in the city. They have between 6 and 41 years of experience. They create the programming that keeps 3 stations on the air.
MBS’s last offer would have put the station’s average salaries in future at slightly more than minimum wage. The average salary of all radio stations in New Brunswick is $40K and that same number at stations in similar-sized markets across the country is $53K. The last offer was an insult by any definition.
These seven people love to work in radio. So much so that they do other jobs so they CAN work in radio. Even on strike, they are still doing radio at http://www.radiofreesaintjohn.fm/
And the Saint John community loves them back. Businesses have supported a fair resolution by withdrawing advertising. But the strike drags on.
Regulators, policy wonks and media owners spend a lot of money and time promoting the viability of local media. But do we love it enough to force the owners of local media to live up to certain basic obligations? For example, the union has been waiting for months under a federally appointed conciliator to get basic financial information about MBS at the bargaining table.
What we do know, courtesy of the CRTC, is that radio is still profitable in this country. Revenues were up last year over the previous year, and profits before interest and taxes were still a healthy 19.9%. To be fair, for stations outside the major markets, the profit picture wasn’t quite as rosy. But even then, revenue was still up 25% from the year before.
But it seems nothing is compelling owners to act with fairness. Quite the opposite is true. MBS management has tried to crush the strike and divide the local community by using replacement workers to keep the stations on the air.
Labour relations processes don’t appear to help either. There’s no willingness to enact first-contract arbitration in this case, so this employer is allowed to stall indefinitely instead of working to get a first contract with employees after they signed up to join a union two years ago.
Quite simply, the system is failing the Saint John Seven. And though it has a licence to operate on the public airwaves of Saint John, nothing is forcing MBS to provide a basic level of quality either. The entire system is failing workers – and audiences.
Shouldn’t those who use our public airwaves for their own profit be held to a definable standard in this country? Robert Pace and his MBS Radio network don’t appear to be accountable to any public, audience or regulator for this hard-edged approach to ordinary workers.
Happy Anniversary Saint John 7. We should all be grateful to you for taking on this struggle for decent local jobs, quality local radio and something closer to the “middle class wage” in the midst of an all-too- complacent regulatory and political environment.
Lise Lareau is the National Vice-President of the Canadian Media Guild