Thursday, 14 December 2006

Box and Walk

In the first two decades of the Toronto Sun, management went out of its way to avoid having to fire an employee.

You had to pull a
Don Ramsay and get the paper successfully sued for libel, resulting in a hefty fine, before being shown the door.

But that was before
Doug Creighton was ousted. Since that day in November of 1992, the bean counters have been busy crunching the staff and payroll numbers.

It has become an annual game of employee roulette and the losers have often been the most loyal employees.

Pre-union cutbacks:

Imagine being a veteran Sun staffer. You arrive at work one day and the key to the underground garage isn't working. Your pass key isn't faulty - you have been terminated.

Picture yourself sitting at your desk working and proud of your 20 years on the job when told you have been terminated. You are given a box for your belongings and walked to the door.

It was heartless and devastating.

We know
Wanda Goodwin made a call to the Toronto Star from her desk at the Sun before being walked out in 1999. She was hired on the spot.

Gord Stimmell, a loyal 25-year employee shown the door in 1999, also found a home at the Toronto Star soon after his exit from the Sun.

The Sun's loss, the Star's gain.

The post-union process at
the Quebecor-owned Toronto Sun involves the same "box and walk" process for non-union employees, says Maryanna Lewyckyj, Unit Chair of SONG's Toronto Sun editorial unit.

Maryanna, a loyal Sun employee for 22 years, is fighting for her own job after the most recent layoff notices. She explains the current layoff process:

"Immediately whisking people out the door is still the company policy for non-unionized employees, i.e. Rick Van Sickle.

But for unionized workers,
the collective agreement provides for a notice period of eight weeks. In other words, you are expected to work (unless the company decides otherwise) for eight weeks after the notice of layoff.

Also, just because you receive a layoff notice, it doesn't mean it is a certainty you will lose your job. Some people have "bumping" rights, allowing them to displace a junior employee in an equivalent (lateral) or lower classification, provided the person has the demonstrable "skill, ability and aptitude to competently perform the job."

The notice to bump has to be given within a week of the layoff notice.

Finally, after a layoff, the company must post a notice giving unionized employees two weeks to request a voluntary buyout. If the request is accepted, the company must use the request to reduce the number of people to be laid off in that classification.

To summarize, here are main provisions of the contract relating to layoffs:

(1) A person who is to be laid off gets eight weeks' notice before the effective
date of the layoff so they don't buy a house or car the week before they lose their job;

(2) Layoffs must be done by reverse seniority within a classification;

(3) If a person is laid off, depending on their circumstances, they may have the right to "bump" a more junior employee. If they bump, their
pay would be based on their current pay or top of the grid of the lower classification, whichever is lower. If a three-year copy editor making the current minimum of $65,374 (rising to $66,682 on Jan. 1) bumped to reporter, the person would make the same money since the minimum at the top of the reporter grid is currently $73,600 (rises to $75,072 on Jan. 1.)

(4) The company must seek volunteers for buyouts and if they agree to a person's
buyout request, a layoff victim in the same classification must be reinstated.

(5) A person who is laid off has recall rights for two years. So if they lay off a full-time
reporter and later decide to add a full-time reporter to the staff within two years, the company must first offer the job to the laid off reporter.

(6) The severance package is one week of pay for every five
months of service, plus an extra week for people with less than five years of service. (The voluntary package is the same, but the person doesn't have recall rights.) Medical and dental coverage can continue through the severance period if a person wishes to pay for the coverage.

(7) The company must meet with the union prior to the layoffs to discuss other ways of achieving the same efficiencies. (The recent pre-layoff meeting allowed the union to arrange voluntary buyouts to save three jobs and have three people spared the trauma of being told their job was gone.)"

Thank you Maryanna for taking the time to explain the process.

Union or no union, there is little loyalty at the Toronto Sun in 2006 and the only "family" remaining is the bond between former staffers and the dwindling number of current veteran staffers who remember better times.

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