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2005: A year to remember for the CMG

Looking back at this year is quite an exercise. It’s rare that you see so many challenges and accomplishments in a 12-month period, in the Guild or any other union.

Taken together they add up this way: two new collective agreements negotiated (Reuters, CBC), a wage re-opener and contract extension at CP/BN that restored regular pay hikes, and a lucrative wage re-opener at APTN.

Add to that two new branches organized and certified at SunTV (formerly Toronto 1) and Alliance Atlantis Communications, following up on the addition of VisionTV to the CMG family late last year.

This alone would have been heady stuff for most union locals. But at CMG, all this happened before, during and after the event that put this union into the national spotlight for a two-month period: the lockout at the CBC.

Reflecting on the lockout this past week for reporters doing year-enders, I was struck by the enormity of the collision– a collision that, like most, was entirely avoidable. Think about it: by the mid-point of the year, the CBC was suffering. It had lost the Olympics for 2010 and 2012. It had lost the contract to produce Newsworld International, which faded to black over the summer. Yet, for some reason, CBC management turned on its employees and decided this was the time to try to extract enormous concessions. By equating creativity and renewal with new non-permanent employees, it antagonized its own workforce. Then it locked the doors at 12:01 am on August 15. Bang.

Like many people facing blunt force, Guild members reacted first with shock and disbelief. But something else emerged quickly: a collective spirit. One action inspired another, and soon Guild members were everywhere, on buses, online, on podcasts, at MPs doorsteps, and touring the nation. Picketing took on a new meaning. Our message was about reclaiming the CBC as it should be. It was also about the importance of secure employment. We spoke anywhere there was an interest in the CBC, from small, remote communities to the nation’s capital.

CBC members got enormous support along the way from their colleagues in other CMG branches, from other Guild locals, from the Communications Workers of America, from other unions– big and small. We learned what it’s like to belong to the community of labour.

It all worked. We tapped into public support for a strong CBC and for the principle of permanent jobs. We held back the concessions. CBC members now have a single new contract that replaces three separate ones (an achievement in itself), and overall, there are remarkably few changes to the status quo and some notable improvements. But all this was so very, very possible without a damaging lockout.

We are clearly still recovering. Like many traumatic experiences, it now seems like a dream and full recovery is difficult because of the “no fault” culture at the management level of the CBC. Nearly three months later, no one has been held accountable for this senseless clash.

But it is time to recover. We need to help define a new and positive working culture at the CBC and our other workplaces.

We must fully integrate the new branches we have organized into CMG and ensure that our new members have the tools they need to work cooperatively with employers to achieve their mutual objectives. Our leaders at the CP/BN branch have shown that it is possible to work out solutions, even when the employer is facing a significant financial problem, and negotiate a deal that benefits everyone.

We need to keep fighting for careers and permanent jobs– at CBC, at TVOntario and throughout our industry. We need to push back against increased workload at APTN and elsewhere. We need to be there for people as new issues arise.

We now know our strength, but we must use it wisely and strategically. Labour-management relations need not be about conflict. But there needs to be a respectful relationship between the two for it to work.

At the same time, we need to live up to the greater expectations placed on the CMG: by members who expect to see their concerns reflected in their union going forward, and by those outside the Guild who will expect us to give back when others in the labour movement face their time of crisis.

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