Thirteen pressroom employees belonging to the daily paper of record have now been locked out of their jobs for close to a week.
“So who’s printing the papers?” you might ask ironically while reading the Herald online in an incognito window.
Scab workers are being escorted in and out of the Herald’s Bluewater Road printing plant to complete the job. A chain-link fence, erected before the Halifax Typographical Union rejected management’s contract proposal, is keeping the picketing unionized workers from entering the premises.
The printing plant workers are responsible for putting plates on the Herald’s “state-of-the-art WIFAG OF370 coldset printing press.” They also thread the gargantuan rolls of paper through the press and run production for a machine that can spit out 70,000 or so copies per hour.
You can get an idea of the production process on a similar machine by watching the video below.
Locked-out worker Dave McPherson says it takes a four-and-a-half-year apprenticeship program and continual on-the-job training to handle the printing press.
“I’ve been there 28 years and I’m still learning every day,” says McPherson. “It’s not something you can pick up in a couple of weeks. It’s a very intensive piece of machinery.”
But if it’s such specialized labour, where are the replacement workers coming from? One employee to cross the picket line is an experienced plant manager now getting their hands dirty again with ink. Another is a union member who took early retirement last year. That's the same early retirement benefit the company now wants to take away, notes The Friends of the Chronicle Herald Newsroom account on Facebook.
A variety of other people from Herald departments and subsidiary printing outfits may also have been shuffled around to keep the ink running. The paper’s spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
The union and Herald management once again met to negotiate this past Tuesday, but those talks also broke down. The company is looking for concessions on job security and early-retirement incentives, as well as to freeze wages in a four-year agreement. The Herald claims those concessions are necessary to offset the continual decline of advertising and circulation revenue.
“We were looking to ensure an agreement that reduced the strain on the company while protecting our employees,” spokesperson Nancy Cook said in a release.
The newspaper's press workers are paid $66,000 a year for their specialized labour. A high amount, if only because the majority of Nova Scotian jobs seem to pay so little.
“They are the highest-paid press workers in Atlantic Canada because they work at the region’s largest newspaper, operating a multimillion-dollar press that requires a great deal of skill and knowledge,” writes the Friends of the Chronicle Herald group.
Unlike last fall's newsroom layoffs that were for the most part settled quietly via voluntary buyouts and retirements, the pressroom battle is becoming a very public fight. Workers have been picketing the Herald headquarters, and HTU president Ingrid Bulmer has asked readers to cancel their subscriptions for the duration of the lockout.
The union has also filed an unfair labour practice complaint, claiming management never had any intent to bargain in good faith.
All that considered, the union at least publicly is remaining adamant they want to sit back down to negotiate. It remains to be seen if management will be changing their minds. In the meantime, the papers keep rolling.