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The Canadian Media Guild mourns the passing of Arnold Amber, longtime CMG leader and activist

We deeply value and appreciate Arnold’s dedication and work over several decades as a founder and leader of our union.

Such admiration is grounded in shared purpose and shared struggle. He was an advocate for working people and for quality journalism in Canada and around the world.

Arnold’s commitment to the success and strength of our union, expressed through gestures large and small, is something we will always hold dear.

Please see a tribute to Arnold from Lise Lareau, below.

In solidarity, always,

Kamala Rao
President, Canadian Media Guild

A tribute to Arnold Amber, by former CMG National President Lise Lareau –

The Canadian Media Guild has lost one of its founding fathers.

Arnold Amber died September 4th after suffering two strokes earlier this summer, in addition to a final diagnosis of cancer.

He was 77 years old.

Arnold was a warrior in the fight for what’s right and fair. He did it in many ways, in his personal life and with many organizations. But his impact on the union movement at the CBC and at other media workplaces has been profound.

In the early 1980s, when I met Arnold, there were 13 unions at the CBC. It was a much bigger corporation with robust staffing in locations across the country, with its own in-house drama, documentary and music production capacity. It was another era. But Arnold understood what mattered: strength and stability for the people who made programming so that good journalism and quality shows could thrive.

Over the next two decades, there were a series of consolidations and elections to whittle down the number of unions at CBC. Arnold started out by leading the Association of Toronto Producers and Directors. During the first consolidation vote in 1993, Arnold had the foresight as head of the producers’ union to join forces with what was then called the Canadian Wire Service Guild, because the Guild had what Arnold understood was vital: a tradition of permanent jobs and job security. It turned out to a hugely beneficial alliance for all involved. The newly named Canadian Media Guild would go on to be the single main union outside Quebec at the CBC.

Arnold’s strategic thinking at the time gave all of us his biggest lasting gift: a workplace based on permanent jobs, which is increasingly rare in all workplaces and much more so in broadcasting. He led the fight for permanent staff status for most CBC employees in his first negotiation as the CBC branch president of the CMG during the 1994-96 talks. It could easily have gone the other way, since many of the predecessor unions had a history of annual contracts. That win allowed hundreds of contract producers to gain permanent status and access to the CBC pension for the first time. (The dominance of permanent employees was at risk again in 2005, which prompted the 8-week lockout. Arnold was once again central in winning that fight.)

For all his union success, Arnold was not a typical union guy. He had a gut sense about when a policy or a contract article simply wasn’t right, wouldn’t sit well, seemed out of touch — even if it it was legally OK or standard union language. He liked nuance and wording that recognized that our work in the media sometimes didn’t lend itself to typical industrial collective agreement phrases. He liked to craft original solutions. He was driven to do what was right in a bigger way.

He was way ahead of the pack when it came to strategy. His background in high-level files as a TV producer gave him an ability to get to the core of an issue quickly. I sat next to him when he would take a call about say, the first televised South African leaders election debate (1994), the design of the set for the Atlanta Olympics (1996), and the negotiations for the consortium that televises Canadian leaders’ debates. He did all of these things and then he would return to a major issue in negotiations with the CBC or other Guild issue of the day. I think it helped all of us rise to a higher level, or at least find a solution that was the best of the middle ground.

In 2006, Arnold retired from the CBC and stepped down as head of the CBC Branch of the CMG. He concentrated on his wider role as head of the CMG’s parent union, CWA Canada, for several more years. He successfully negotiated an autonomous Canadian union structure within the international union, the Communications Workers of America.

As a friend, he’ll be remembered as someone who always asked about your family and remembered your answer. But it’s his role as a mentor, as a leader and as a thoughtful and smart soul that we will all miss when we’re tackling the next big issue.

It is beyond fitting that he died on Labour Day. Though we hadn’t heard the news, his absence left a huge hole at this year’s parade. He marched — or walked the entire route with a cane —under the CMG flag for 15 years. His legacy will live on in the hundreds of people who he helped with sage advice, in those who have permanent jobs because of his dedication, and in those he inspired to become union leaders.

— Lise Lareau

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