Postmedia and union talks break down over contracting out of printing


Talks between the company that publishes the Vancouver Sun and Province and the union that represents their workers broke down after two days of negotiations earlier this month over contracting out of the printing of both newspapers.

That increases the likelihood of a labour dispute in a year’s time over Pacific Newspaper Group’s plan to have outside companies handle the printing.

“They can lock us out or we can go on strike,” said Unifor Local 2000 vice-president Gary Engler. “Of course, we have the right to picket and all of those sorts of things.”

Postmedia Network recently announced it will sell the Surrey property where its printing plant is located and either contract out the printing or build a new plant that would require fewer workers. The company imposed a Nov. 18 deadline for an agreement to be reached on staffing levels for a new plant, but a Unifor release called the company’s demands “too extreme” for the union to accept.

“Among other conditions, the company insists on the right to choose from among our current members as to who would be able to work at a new plant,” it stated. “It was estimated that only about one-quarter of our current Kennedy Heights members would be asked to work at the new facility.”

The union also claims the company offered far less severance pay for displaced press operators than it has offered its editorial and business staff under a Voluntary Staff Reduction Plan.

The collective agreement between Unifor and Postmedia’s subsidiary Pacific Newspaper Group expires on Nov. 30, 2014. Engler said the company suggested more talks in January, but the Unifor release called agreement “highly unlikely.” PNG announced it has already contracted with Transcontinental Printing to handle printing in the event that agreement cannot be reached with Unifor on staffing levels for a new plant.

Engler said the recent talks revealed that only the Sun would be printed at Transcontinental’s plant on Annacis Island, however, with another printing company handling the Province. The current collective agreement prevents contracting out, and its provisions would be extended under the B.C. Labour Code in the event of a strike or lockout.

“We know where the printing is going,” noted Engler. “Transcontinental is unionized as well. Where the Province is going is a non-union plant.”

Meanwhile, another large U.S. hedge fund has acquired a major ownership interest in Postmedia. Silver Point Capital recently bought a 19 per cent stake in the company, which makes it the second largest owner of Postmedia behind New York-based GoldenTree Asset Management, which owns about 35 per cent.

Canada’s largest chain of dailies, which was founded in the 19 century by the Southam family, was bought out of the bankruptcy of Canwest Global Communications in 2010 by a group of its creditors, with financial backing from several U.S. hedge funds.

Vancouver journalist Marc Edge is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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