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Reflections on CBC management’s Heritage testimony

By Lise Lareau
CMG National President

I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting there in room 269 of the West Block in Ottawa, listening to the team of senior managers try defend the lockout. Not only did they mislead the committee about why they feel they had no choice but to lock us out, they did it with us staring right at them. That type of “we are right no matter where the truth lies” attitude explains the lockout in ways that actual words cannot.

The challenge now is to get the CBC moving forward again. The Guild is asking to appear before the Heritage Committee to set the record straight and more importantly, to talk about what we would do to get management and employee relations back on track. (Though the CBC managers were asked several times about this by Hertiage Committee members, they did not answer.)

Since the return to work, CBC managers have, by and large, adopted an attitude that “the lockout is over, and we will go on as if it never happened.” Some are trying to revise history by calling it a “strike/lockout.” Others are openly antagonistic and combative with Guild officials. It’s how NOT to repair relations after a labour dispute.

We need to jointly develop a plan of how to work together again. We need to heal a relationship that was sick even before the lockout. The culture of obfuscation, withholding of information, refusing to deal with conflicts before they get to a litigious stage, favouritism ? those are the ingredients in a recipe for a poisonous workplace that must be changed.

How do we achieve that? There’s no question it will be difficult ? almost impossible — if the main players who masterminded the lockout stay in their positions. But we do not control those decisions. Another possibility is for the main players to be ordered by the Board to sign on to a program of constructive relationship building. It would include several steps:

1. A meeting between top management and union officials in a facilitated environment, possibly with several members of the Board present, to discuss how the culture can be changed.
2. Out of the discussions, the parties would sign a public document indicating steps they agree to take to do so.
3. Both parties would reveal how much they spend battling each other and pledge to try to cut those costs by a certain percentage. Both sides would have to agree to be open with their numbers. (The Guild’s numbers are part of its annually approved budget. The CBC’s numbers are never revealed.)
4. Both parties would have to agree to a timetable for review of progress, which would be made public.

These are some thoughts, which can be developed further. But something along these lines has to take place, because senior management’s appearance before the Heritage Committee suggested to me that the war on employees didn’t end when we came back to work: it simply moved into a new phase.

There are other troubling signs, too. It was equally distressing to hear that CBC management has made no moves to discuss next year’s Parliamentary appropriation with the government. Although Robert Rabinovitch and his team are fully aware the CBC is under-funded, they never appear to do the necessary work to secure the additional money they say they need.

At the same time, they now claim they have no money left over after the lockout. The claim is not credible. We know they saved about $40 million in salaries. They could not have spent that amount on security, management bonuses (inflated though they were) and start-up advertising. We hope that Parliament gets to the bottom of CBC spending during the lockout. An audit is probably our best hope of getting those answers.

And there remains one essential question. How could Rabinovitch justify locking us out “because we believed the union would go on strike in October during hockey or possibly an election”? The CBC controlled the timing. It pulled the plug on talks in May to force an August deadline date.

We reacted by taking a strike vote in July, which has a 60-day limit. Our strike vote would have expired in the first week of September, long before October. All this is spelled out in the Canada Labour Code. In any case, why wasn’t option 3 considered: bargaining past the August 15 deadline for another three weeks before the strike vote expired. It would have provided some necessary pressure on the parties to deal. If it had been serious bargaining, we would have been close to the deal we eventually got by the beginning of September, close enough to call off a dispute.

But this is a senior management team that only dealt with us in a fair way when they were absolutely forced to: after a seven-week lockout, with Labour Minister Joe Fontana staring them down and Hockey Night in Canada’s timeline ticking. That’s the culture that has to change, in the interest of public broadcasting in this country.

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