Monday, April 15, 2013

Common sense breaks out in newspaper business!

Common sense has broken out at the Winnipeg Free Press, and that’s news.

The largest news medium in our part of Canada is about to sign a five-year collective agreement with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

The paper’s employees, about 450 “inside workers” including journalists and about the same number of part-time carriers, ratified the agreement on the weekend.

This is the first time the two sides have agreed on a new contact before the current one expires.

Gone are the traditional short-sightedness and pig-headedness exhibited by both sides.

Replacing them are more realistic views of the challenges facing mainstream news media as they strive to survive and even succeed in the Wild West of online information.

Disclosure: I negotiated for the Free Press as a minion of the extremely short-sighted and pig-headed Thomson Newspapers of late memory, against this same union in its own more short-sighted and pig-headed days.

This new agreement should lift the doom-and-gloom atmosphere on Mountain Avenue – and on McDermot Avenue at the News CafĂ©.

Journalists in particular, relatively well paid as they are, dreaded a repetition of the 16-day picket line in 2008.

Strikes and lockouts at newspapers these days always end badly: fewer jobs, often less pay, and lower sales and profits for the companies.

At the Free Press there will be no immediate pay raise for current employees, and only a three per cent increase over the contract.

But I think some of the biggest news is that the union has backed down on one of its traditional principles and accepted a two-tier pay system.

Staff hired after July 1 will receive 19 per cent less in salaries, CEP says.

Not great news, but not that bad, either.

As an instructor who helps turn out new journalists each year in Winnipeg, I expect the Free Press now will be able to hire more of them.

Now that this deal is done, here’s a debating point: Which is in more trouble, the maligned newspaper business or the unions that have traditionally represented its employees?

You might not have heard much about it but the CEP, losing members across the country, is merging with the once-mighty Canadian Auto Workers, mired in the same involuntary downsizing.

What kind of union will be around in five years to negotiate the next contract at the Free Press?