Tuesday 24 April 2007

SONG prez e-mail

Brad Honywill, president of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild and former unit chair at the Toronto Sun, e-mailed TSF to update the guild's activities at the Sun since certification in 2004.

Brad was given a copy of an e-mail sent to TSF anonymously which questioned the effectiveness of SONG at the Sun and SONG's motivations in recruiting new members. TSF decided not to post the comments because they were anonymous and the sender did not respond to a request for attribution.

Brad writes:

"I am glad to have this opportunity to respond to the suggestions that the union at the Toronto Sun has not accomplished anything since certification in 2004.

We sometimes don't blow our own horn enough.

First, let's start with what was accomplished in the first contract. Prior to that contract, the Sun was in the process of systematically lowering wages and compensation in general. There was a large group of employees the company called freelancers who received no benefits, such as vacation and pension, and who had no employee rights.

A general sense of fear pervaded the editorial department. People went into work wondering if today would be the day they would be fired.
As a result, people were afraid to claim overtime and they lived in fear of their managers, who, to be fair, lived in fear of the people above them.

The first contract provided an average wage increase of 20% over four years. In fact, if the (TSF) letter writer was still at the Sun, he'd know that the unionized editorial department got a 2% wage increase on Jan. 1, will get another .5% increase on May 14 and another 1% on Dec. 31 for a total increase in 2007 of 3.5%. Plus we have a wage grid. No longer do we have to go to management begging for an increase as we become more experienced. It's set in stone.

Those increases, of course, are on top of the cost of living increases. How does this compare with the non-union staff at the Sun? Well, they've got nothing. Nada. Zero. That's right. Not a cent in cost of living increases.

People often forget about the increases they got when the union came in, and through the grid, and the annual increases which have followed, when they wonder what their union dues are doing for them.

The union isn't out there in all of their faces reminding them of this fact on a daily basis, but it's a fact, just the same.

The first contract got many of those freelancers jobs with full rights like the other employees. It also provided a wage grid for the part-time employees whose wage had been frozen for many years and it gave the part-timers a leg up on full time jobs when they became available.

Not all the part-time staff, however, were hired to full time jobs and that left some bitter. We wish we could have got all of them hired but, ultimately, the company has the right to hire people it can prove are superior.

The first contract also gave the employees the mechanism to object to arbitrary decisions by the company. For example, even before we had a contract in 2003, we successfully defended the photographers when the company arbitrarily decided to cut the them out of a longstanding practice of compensation for outside picture sales.

After we raised the spectre of a labour board challenge, the company agreed to give each of the full time photographers a cheque for $1,000 that Christmas in compensation for the missed revenue.

Issues like this continue to happen.

The first contract also achieved language protecting members from unjustified firing. For example, the union has spent several thousand dollars defending a veteran employee the company arbitrarily let go out of seniority as part of the downsizings last year. And we are confident that we will either get his job back or a fair buyout settlement.

And we've spent much time and money educating employees about pension plans, pointing them in the direction that is in their best interest, rather than the interests of the corporate bottom line.

There have been many, many grievances that we have filed and settled over the last four years - too many to list. And we have been very successful in defending members' rights. For confidentiality reasons, however, many of them can't be listed.

That being said, there's no doubt we have faced a difficult time at the Sun and there have been job losses which the union has been unable to prevent. Think, however, how the non-union departments have fared. The pressroom is being closed and circulation and classified have been virtually eliminated.

Non-union papers in Calgary and Edmonton have also been decimated. The difference is that the downsizing is done according to who a particular manager likes on any given day in the non-union environments - or according to who costs the most.

Layoff by seniority is a much fairer and humane system and I remain proud that we achieved that, if nothing else, in our first agreement.

Another point. The anonymous letter writer states that the organizers of the union "up and quit on us." As the leader of the organizing drive, and the first unit chair, I'd like to point out that I remain a Toronto Sun employee, even though I am on a leave of absence to serve as president of SONG, which services 28 various workplaces in Ontario.

Other members of the organizing committee still on staff include: Jim Slotek, Stan Behal, Wayne Janes, Bill Murray and Zen Ruryk. Val Gibson was laid off and Alan Findlay went to Sun Media corporate. Alan Cairns, Brodie Fenlon and Fred Thornhill, like many employees, found the decline of their beloved Sun too difficult and left to pursue other opportunities.

Finally, the writer states that SONG is seeking other newspaper members because it has lost so many existing members. Here's a fact for you: our membership peaked last fall at almost 3,500 and it continues to run very close to that. In fact, since we joined CEP in 1994, membership is up 50% and we've almost doubled the number of workplaces we cover from 16 to 28, several of those in the last four years.

Why are so many joining a union that's ineffective? They're not. They're joining a union that gives them a chance to stand up for themselves and fight back against heartless corporate greed and they are better off for it."

Brad Honywill
former Sun unit chair and now SONG president

Thank you for your e-mail, Brad.

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