Thursday, September 22, 2005

CBC Lockout Watch, Day 39

The CBC Board of Directors has given management a vote of confidence in its conduct of the lockout to date.

One of the issues that has attracted most attention, the employment of contract staff, in our view, has been seriously misunderstood and misrepresented. The new contract employees will remain a small fraction of the Corporation’s work force, and they will be well paid union members with a superior benefit program.

We want to pay tribute to the President of the CBC/Radio-Canada, Robert Rabinovitch, for his commitment to public broadcasting. We fully support the strategic vision of his management team.

This tribute to Rabinovitch would be more meaningful if he actually answered to the board of directors. Nonetheless, this should dash all union hopes of pressuring the board to lean on management to reach a quick settlement.

The Canadian Media Guild has proposed a settlement offer including 3.5% pay raises every year, retroactive to 2004, and a $1,000 signing bonus for every CMG member who's worked at least 60 days prior to the lockout. That's 17.5% pay raises for the best-paid people in broadcasting over five years, over and above the cost of living index increases, or about 20% to 25% when it's all said and done.

The union won a lot of goodwill from the public by not mentioning money. Now they've not only made a cash grab, but they've also antagonized the CBC negotiators unnecessarily by going public and not to the table with the offer. Everybody wants a pay raise, but no one wants to hear well-paid strikers crying out for bigger bucks.

Management can turn the tables on the CMG for the first time in weeks by switching the focus from "saving Canadian broadcasting" to "shaking down the taxpayers."

I saw the first half of the End the Lockout rally at Massey Hall last night. The audience was even more interesting than the performers. CBC boasts about reflecting the face of Canada in all its diverse and multicultural splendour, but the audience was the whitest crowd I've ever seen in Toronto, as was the entertainment except for the token self-styled African blues band. Pretty heavily middle-aged and elderly too; few people there under 40, fewer still under 25.

The theme of the speeches from Alice Munro, June Callwood and Joe Clark was all about how great CBC was, less about how great it is now (hah!) or how great it can be. The audience wasn't there to support today's CBC; it was there to support an ideal CBC that they think they remember from decades ago, when Trudeaumania swept the land and big government was the solution to all life's problems.

Now I understand how these people can claim that without CBC, Canadian broadcasting would cease to exist. They're stuck in the time when it really was CBC or nothing.

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