BROADCASTING

Faulty reception

A CBC strike disrupts radio and television

DIANE TURBIDE March 27 1989
BROADCASTING

Faulty reception

A CBC strike disrupts radio and television

DIANE TURBIDE March 27 1989

Faulty reception

BROADCASTING

A CBC strike disrupts radio and television

Television viewers who tuned in to the CBC’s supper-hour news program in Halifax last week had reason to think that they might have to adjust their sets. Instead of 1st Edition’s usual anchor, Jim Nunn, another host, Bill Donovan, was reading the news. And during the broadcast, Donovan introduced a newsclip in which a reporter interviewed a CBC management executive about the effect on the network of a day-old strike by about 2,600 of its employees, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The clip proved to be unusually revealing: the executive being interviewed was Donovan himself, director of CBC Radio and TV operations in the Maritimes region.

Variations on that scenario played out across the country’s airwaves as members of the network's upper echelon attempted to plug the holes left by striking employees who included announcers, film editors, production assistants, designers and clerical staff. Hardest hit were local radio programs and TV news shows, including The National, where host Peter Mansbridge was replaced by Ontario regional director Don Goodwin. Meanwhile, outside the studios, CUPE broadcast members—who have been without a contract since last June—hoisted picket signs in their first full strike action since the group’s formation in 1969.

The strike, centring on issues of job security,

jurisdiction, wages, hours and overtime, disrupted radio and TV programming in varying degrees and seemed likely to jeopardize coverage of this week’s Alberta election. Such national radio shows as Morningside and As It Happens were hosted by their usual personalities—Peter Gzowski and Michael Enright, respectively, who are not CUPE members and belong to the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists—but they of-

fered more music than usual and experienced some technical difficulties. Television news also suffered from the absence of professional readers and technical expertise, as voice feeds and graphics sometimes failed to connect. The situation also caused the network to withdraw from its coproduction with the Academy of

Canadian Cinema and Television of the 10th anniversary of its annual Genie awards, scheduled to air on March 22. Said Denis Harvey, vice-president of CBC English-language TV: “If they can produce the show on their own, we’ll buy it from them and air it.” Harvey said that

the strike has also had a major impact on drama programming scheduled for the 19891990 season. “We’ve had to stop shooting on a number of shows in progress,” he said. “A feature film with Louis del Grande called Crazy People, a mini-series about the Colin Thatcher murder case and a sitcom called Mosquito Lake.”

Robert Paterson, president of the Broadcast Council, which is made up of more than 20 CUPE locals within the

CBC, said that a major stumbling block in negotiations is job security. He added: “The network has told us that no one hired after December, 1981, will ever be able to achieve any measure of job security. But that covers about 50 per cent of our members.” For their part, CBC spokesmen say that CUPE now enjoys job security provisions superior to most other employee groups, including the federal civil service. Said Harvey: “Most workers, public or private, do not have as much job security as CUPE. We gave CUPE that benefit in the last contract, and our figures indicate that much more than 50 per cent are protected by it.”

Another contentious issue is jurisdiction, according to Paterson, as CBC undertakes in creasing numbers of coproductions off network premises. "Management is not required in the collective agreement to use our members-for

instance, they can hire freelance contractors and camera crews,” he explained. And although Paterson said that management has, in most cases, used CUPE members in off-site projects, he emphasized that there is no contractual obligation. Said Paterson: “Without it, CUPE members face a double jeopardy—no job security coupled with no written guarantee that our members will be used even when there is work to be done.” Harvey defended the CBC’s record on CUPE participation on coproductions. “Out of 342 coproductions from 1987 to 1988, CUPE members were involved in 300,” said Harvey. “And CUPE members worked in 159 programs that were produced off the CBC premises.” He added: “Almost all of those shows would never have been produced if we had had to produce them on our

own. They provide more work for all CUPE members.” The union and network spokesmen said that they hoped for a quick resolution. But late last week, the two sides were involved in a Canada Labor Relations Board hearing in Ottawa. CBC lawyers had applied for cease-and-desist orders to prevent members of other CBC unions, including the 2,200-member National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), from honoring the CUPE picket lines. The applications followed the refusal of NABET members in several cities to cross picket lines on Thursday, an action that shut down some local newscasts. By 4 a.m. on Saturday, the labor board had ruled in favor of the CBC. As program disruptions continued, viewers and listeners could only hope for a message to assure them that “the situation is only temporary.”

DIANE TURBIDE