Nose pressed to glass

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

We beat the bastards

German armed forces surrendered unconditionally. Hostilities in Europe ended officially at midnight. God save the King. More later ...

I'm back. I wanted to chew on this victory for a few days before I ruminated publicly. (OK, I did run into the street in my sailor uniform and kiss strange women hoping someone would take our snapshot and it would turn into an iconic image.) Seriously, the parties were fun although I was afraid that, at one point, I would be mounted by Pedro the horny Gnome.

I guess the bottom line is that we won although I'm still not sure exactly what it is that we won, other than the right to go back to work. It's strange that all through the lockout I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it is mangement was trying to do and now we have a settlement that provokes a similar sense of mystery.

I know Stursrabinochalmers didn't get the contract bonanza that was supposedly vital to the very future of the CBC, and maybe democracy itself.

The lockout also laid bare the internal and external ills of the corp, especially the awful way many casual and temp workers are treated (props to those who spoke out) and TV's many woes. The upside of that is a chance for renewal and positive change.

I know management lost the public relations battle in an astounding way. I won't be surprised if this "dispute" forms the basis of chapters in several P.R. and industrial relations textbooks.

Here, in my opinion, are management's prime mistakes:

- Locking us out. Many, including Zerbisias of the Toronto Star, hailed their pre-emptive move as a brilliant tactic to avoid a pre-Hockey Night in Canada strike. Like the Bush doctrine that may have inspired it, it turned out to be a disaster. Being locked out -- kept from our desks and the airwaves by an ideological obsession nobody outside the Broadcasting Centre's 10th floor could understand -- turned out to be a club with which we could beat management over and over again. I certainly never tired of it. The sympathy we got from media commentators and politicians, not to mention members of the public who wrote to MPs, would have been anger and impatience if management had only waited for us to strike.

-- Deciding to lose the PR war before it even started. They had that crappy, ugly website and Jason MacDonald spouting obvious crap. A few bad ads and the Rabinovitch op-ed piece that was impenetrable and illogical. We had a multitude of local and national sites with real content, podcasts, alternative radio shows, the much-loved Shelagh Rogers on the road, events on the picket line and, of course, the bloggers. I'm sure only a tiny fraction of CBC listeners and viewers actually read the blogs but among those few were the journalists covering the dispute. CBC Drone was quoted more than Rabinovitch.

-- Not doing real replacement programming right out of the gate. I couldn't believe that Stursberg didn't have a faux-National ready to go with a flick of the switch. What was he doing during the 15 months of negotiations? Reporters and columnists seized on the Antiques Roadshow reruns and gleefully spanked the bosses. The few attempts at original material were similarly skewered (did anyone else see the first-day thing on a Newsworld where an old reporter-turned-manager droned on about Indonesia for what seemed like hours? It was like something you'd see presented in a church basement, maybe called "My Indonesia" by Bertrand Cuthwaite). By the time The National With A Strong Focus On Quebec And Moncton finally hit the air, it was way too late.

-- The biggie. What we had here, to quote a certain filmic prison warden, was a failure to communicate. Management couldn't sell its message because it couldn't, or wouldn't, articulate it. Why is it vital to the CBC's future to have many more employees on contract? I still don't know. I never saw any real attempt to explain, much less prove, the idea or to explain where it came from. It's amazing to me that national TV, radio and online networks were shut down for seven weeks, robbing taxpayers of the content they paid for and employees of their livelihoods, over a goal that nobody understood. The people who sided against the workers didn't side with management -- they sided against the CBC as a whole, demanding it be destroyed or turned into a charity case airing computer tutorials. In the end, on the communications point alone, we couldn't have lost unless we committed suicide.

But we didn't -- quite the opposite. And here's the beauty of it. We beat them by being creative and having fun. We also used technology in a way that, on the inside, would have been smothered by bureaucracy and navel-gazing. The blogs especially were interesting because they were organic -- something that grew naturally without union direction and must have seemed like a swarm of wasps to the spinners inside.

So where do we go from here?

Well, I'll make one bold prediction - Rabinovitch will resign, probably this coming week. He's too damaged -- when the board chair is dissing you in public, watch out -- and there's too much anger for a head not to roll. Rabinovitch will say it's for the good of the corporation, he's helping the CBC heal and move forward to put in place the many excellent changes he's fostered, he was on a contract extension and didn't really plan to stay much longer anyway, etc. etc. It'll be a hard thing to swallow but he's a rich, connected business guy so he can just go screw someplace else up.

Stursberg will still a little longer but the new prez, who will have a broadcasting background, will push him out. Chalmers I'm not sure about but I think she'll find it pretty difficult to regain the respect of radio people so she won't stick around either.

I am optimistic that, in the end, positive change will come, painful as it may be for the TV side.

Well, I'll end by saying thanks to anyone who read the blog and to my colleagues who won a war well-fought. See you on the inside -- I'll be the one with the red nose (but I'll just look down at the carpet like I did before).


Sunday, October 02, 2005

To Hull with them!

A few days ago, I'd thought we'd be spending the pre-Thanksgiving weekend giving pre-thanks that a deal had finally been hammered out. Next week would see both sides sell the deal and then a vote and then we'd all troop in to work full of turkey, pumpkin pie and long-simmered bile.

A deal may still be nigh or it may be a month or more away. I can't tell. Fontana is playing tough guy, which is to our advantage, but what are his options if the two sides can't agree? Now the Liberals are apparently saying the government might fall in the next couple of weeks. It would be a disaster for management (let's see the BBC cover that) but also for us if we were stuck in limbo.

I know, lots of you are saying "it can't happen" but I don't think I was the only one saying the same thing Aug. 14. Fontana's "cone of silence" has just been extended. Let's hope it doesn't end in K.A.O.S.

Some stuff I promised last time:

- "An interview with the Toronto radio staffer that Susan Marjetti has not yet called." That was a joke, a promise I can't deliver on. She was calling everyone, moaning about how she never wanted to be on the air and how terrible it is inside. Featherbedding at its worst. She's obviously political but how crass to try to moan and commiserate with people who haven't seen a cheque in weeks? She obviously enjoyed being on air, and don't tell me she didn't love kudos from Margaret Wente. I'm guessing she signed off only when it was apparent her telemarketing work wasn't doing the trick.

- "Managers' nickname for Simcoe Park, where the fun never stops." The Lido deck, a reference to the party headquarters of The Love Boat, where shuffleboard was always on offer and anyone from Liza Minnelli to George Hamilton might start a conga line. I'm apparently not the only one to have my nose pressed to glass - they've been watching from the other side as the Barenaked Ladies, Ron Sexsmith, the great bake-off etc. gave us lockouts a boost.

- My last prediction was about a breakthrough on the near horizon. I was sort of right - Fontana summoned both sides to Hull. But we're still locked out.

Two new ideas:

- There was talk that Bernard St. Laurent was being called on the carpet by Esther Enkin for some perceived journalistic ethical failing. Puh-leese. After all the shit that management has pulled - the "labour disruption" tag on radio, linking only to the management side from, covering all the queries in Question Period on the first day Parliament resumed except those about CBC (and leaving the placeline off QP story sign-offs to hide the fact that McQuaker is doing them from Toronto), re-running old sports competitions without saying on the screen that it's not live ....

Whither Enkin's credibility? I'm sure the company line will be "Let's not talk about the lockout, we've got to move on and return to our first-rate reporting blah blah blah..." If that doesn't fly maybe there will be a vague promise of an inquiry into lockout failings with a report to land sometime in 2007. (Kreskin moment - such a report will say lines were crossed but with good intentions, really nobody to blame, time of crisis, yada yada)

I say if management is still calling what it puts on the air "the CBC", manager-journalists should be held to the same standard and treated exactly as we would be in peacetime, including reprimands, suspensions, whatever. Enkin should be part of the post-lockout housecleaning and, if she's not, I hope people take her to task the first time she tries to get all Poynter-institute on somebody's ass. If you are invited to one of her meetings, put her feet to the fire or walk out.

On the topic du jour, l'affaire Common: Management must love seeing us turn on each other like starved rats in a cage. The Toronto newsletter shouldn't have re-published the Zerbisias column about it. I say, everyone take a deep breath. If Workman was going to be recalled next June and if Common had been told before the lockout he was going to get a foreign posting, I can't really fault the guy.

I know he has a reputation of being out for himself but I have to think some of the virulent reaction is jealousy. People are making it sound like he'll rue the day he sold us all out but, come on, he'll be in Paris for three years. Why would he care? In his shoes, I think most of us would do the same.

But a huge huzzah for Paul Workman. I'll give thanks for him. Pass the stuffing.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Spinning Terry Fox

Did you guys see the Terry Fox special?

Truly embarrassing, like an A Channel on a bad day. Real CBC specials of this type might (OK, will) be cringey in their earnest adoration of a Canadian icon. But, my God, at least the hosts are competent, the cameras find the people speaking and the audio doesn't sound like it was patched through a Candle Hi-Fi.

Jody Vance did her best, and Terry's parents said some lovely stuff to her, but from start to finish she was flailing like a bespectacled eel. (She seems smart enough - how could she sign on to a CBC production that would normally be hosted by a locked out Mansbridge and somehow not know she's scabbing?)

But the rottenest of the low-rent tomatoes was former Electric Circus host Juliet Powell on Parliament Hill. There was no substance at all - just a huge fake smile and lots of questions in the vein of: "Isn't it terrific to be here today?" It wasn't the meatiest of assignments but Powell is not a journalist in any form (do you know any journalist who can really, truly DANCE?). While I despise her for taking scab work, the real villains of the piece are the managers who let her do it.

So that's sad for Terry Fox and sad for the CBC.

But what really got my llama was the pre-show fireworks over CBC's aborted attempt to do a broadcast from Signal Hill with more scab labour. I'm not sure why the issue blew up there and not Parliament Hill or the other places but I think a union has a right to picket any location where replacement workers are doing a job that union members would normally do.

Now, nobody in CMG wanted to screw over Terry Fox and his family. It would be morally wrong and suicide with the public. The union's apprehension was apparent as the contretemps unfolded but prez Lise L. seemed to do the right thing. She spent the better part of a day negotiating with Darryl Fox, came up with an agreement and then wrote a long note explaining how things went down.

From reading the various accounts, it seems management cancelled the St. John's live hit because the satellite truck turned around rather than wait and because the St. John's crew members balked at the last minute when they discovered it was a CBC production. (If I'm wrong on this, let me know).

Management, however, had no compunction about wresting off Terry's artificial leg and beating the union with it. Jason MacDonald, the Comical Ali of Canadian broadcasting, made with some faux outrage about the union "stunt" that ruined plans to honour Terry where his run began.

A press release accused CMG of "undermining" the Fox special and of requiring wee children to cross a picket line. The union denies the line would ever have been "hard" i.e. hissing "scab" at little Madison. So the spin is just a bit of "I've got it - we'll invoke the kids" flummery. Management's final boot in was alleged disappointment that the union would use poor Terry to make a "political point."

Nobody spun Terry Fox like CBC management spun Terry Fox. And the biggest dishonour done to a great Canadians' legacy was a shoddy jerry-rigged broadcast that should have been done right - with real CBC talent - or not by CBC at all.

I shouldn't be suprised at the spin considering management's bully boy tactics to date but I still was, a little. I mean, is Karl Rove one of Stursberg's contract hires? Are we going to get Swift Boated and accused of being incompetent, dangerous broadcasters or, perhaps, not even broadcasters at all?

This is the crappiest kind of silver lining but management slimed its employees for nought - after the show aired, the showdown on Signal Hill was a non-story.

Coming up in future posts:

- An interview with the Toronto radio staffer that Susan Marjetti has not yet called.

- Managers' nickname for Simcoe Park, where the fun never stops.

- Call me Suzy Stardreamer but I've got a funny feeling there will be a negotiating breakthrough this week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Locked out for a month and boy is my nose sore

Some time away from the line has done me a world of good. I know it's not an option but for many but, if you can swing it, it will restore some of your soul and put some pep back in your step.

In my last post, I missed the boat (tragic pun) while taking a run at Tony Burman. I wondered how he feels about locking out his team but neglected to mention the then-unfolding Katrina catastrophe.

It's old news now, and there's nothing I can add to the sad spectacle (for the people, of course, but also for CBC) but I have to think Burman's molars are ground down to white chalky wafers. Or maybe he doesn't care as much as we think?

Say something Tony - let us know what you're thinking. Write a piece for the Globe or even the lame-o management website. Can you at least admit the damage being done to the franchise? CTV has tried to poach you -- you're a big man, a big journalist. Act like it. Speak up.

Red Badger, a management type, responded to my last post with some interesting comments. He/she is smarter than the average member of Our Friends Inside because they called my blog excellent.

They took issue with my observation, though, that the people who preach the beauty of contracts are often in staff jobs. RB says I'm wrong and that 90 % of CBC managers are on contract. My first thought was the most of the managers I know are staff but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

My second thought was that RB's figure is probably like management's '5% of CBC workers are on contract' stat -- technically true if you go by CBC's weird definitions but in reality misleading and unhelpful. These 'long-term contracts' that RB speaks of sound a lot different than what management is proposing for us workers now.

And RB doesn't say why this rugged individualist philosophy is so right for CBC but apparently unnecessary for the private-sector broadcasters, who should logically be less bureaucratic and more performance-driven.

If anybody knows where the truth lies, I'd be interested to hear it.

Finally, a little picket-line observation. Once in a while, on the east side of the Toronto building, somebody pushes a button so CBC Radio comes out of a loudspeaker. I wonder if management is testing some kind of mental morale-busting trick.

But, like most things in this dispute, the workers have done them one better with fewer resources and a little ingenuity. There's a ruddy-faced guy on the west side of the building who often sets up a ghetto blaster and plays music - usually old-time rock and roll.

He smiles at the passing picketers and snaps his fingers and generally looks like he's having the time of his life. Standing a few feet away are the rent-a-cops, usually in their early 20s. They wince as if this never-ending old crap music is boring into their brains like a rusty jackhammer.

The beautiful part is that the guy often cranks it so loud that the sound is distorted and it's painful to hear, no matter what the song. I can just walk on by but the hang-dog look on those security guards' faces, and the ear-to-ear grin on the music man's, make my day.

Keep your spirits up, my friends. Soon we'll be inflicting radio on others in the way that it was meant to be.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Méli-Mélo: Lockout news you can chews

I am convinced that my last post urging people to (metaphorically) kill the king has frightened management back to the bargaining table. They're talking for their lives. I hear Stursberg has engaged a food taster and refuses to expose his back at urinals. So no such rant is needed today.

Actually, reading that previous post over again, it's a little kooky. Who uses the word bodkin? But when I saw paramedics taking a woman out of the Broadcasting Centre the other day, I was afraid she'd taken my plea literally and, in the attempt, had been run through by Stursberg's Swiss guards.

Anyway, the fever has broken so today it'll just be a Méli-Mélo of crunchy news bits and observations:

Universal Truth: Any CBC manager, newspaper editorialist or columnist who writes something to the effect of: "Young people don't want staff jobs these days -- they love the freedom of contracts," has a staff job and would scream like a fireworks pinwheel if you tried to take away their security and pension.

Whither Tony Burman? Not much heard from the genial news supremo these days. He contributed some propaganda to the management website, probably while being threatened with the business end of a letter opener, but you have to wonder what's in his mind.

Tony, when you smuggled out those videotapes of Ethiopan famine so Brian Stewart could tell the world and spark the biggest humanitarian outpouring in history, did you imagine one day you'd be barring Brian from CBC buildings? And that it would involve a cause so noble as your boss being obsessed with reducing the number of staff employees involved in TV productions? Sleep well, sweet prince -- your conscience is clean.

Also not being talked about much is guild work being done by members of the Association of Professionals and Supervisors. The party line is that APS is neutral and discourages its members from doing work that CMG members normally would.

The truth is that many APS members are disgusted with management and are working to rule (despite pressure from management) but others are stabbing us in the back and making out like bandits.

Case in point -- master control in Toronto is normally staffed by guild members. But right now, it's APS "engineers" -- who would normally never do that job -- pushing the all-important buttons. Others are doing similar to collect huge overtime payments.

If you're an APS person in master control or doing guild work elsewhere, sock away some of that cash -- others inside are telling your colleagues outside so, when we're all back, you might need a long holiday.

I'm really beginning to think that Stephen Harper is to the Liberals as Stursberg (or whoever is guiding the management PR campaign) is to the locked-out workers. By that, I mean our purported enemy is actually our best friend.

Witness the five-page missive mailed by management to workers the other day. It was supposed to make staff question everything we've come to believe about the mysterious contract-based formula that will save the CBC (how and from what are classified and will be answered sometime after we sign on the dotted line).

But they just couldn't resist truth-twisting. All I heard pickets talking about is the cost of such a mail-out and outrage that the bosses are still using the 5% figure for the number of contract staff when the real figure was long ago exposed as about 30%. Honestly, do they not think we read the paper or have any idea how many contract/temporary/casual staff are working around us?

FYI - If you poke around the management site you'll find this: "As of March 2005, CBC employed 5,305 CMG members of whom 3,838 were permanent employees (72.3%), 289 were contract employees (5.4%) and 1,178 are temporary or casual employees (22.3%). " The CBC uses an absurdly narrow definition of "contract employees" that doesn't begin to cover all the people who sign a paper and are told they'll be working to such-and-such a date.

On second thought, maybe the Stephen Harper comparison isn't fair. How about Stockwell Day?

Happy to see the local CMG newsletter seems to have changed its tune on dogs and children on the line - there was a nice spread of photos of just that. As per a previous post, I think reasonably short visits by small dependents give the trudgers a needed boost.

And just so you don't think I'm a union shill, I hope that when we finally emerge from this mess, CMG represents all equally and no longer treats casuals, temporaries and contracts like so much cat litter. If we pay the same dues, we should get the same service.

Finally, to negotiators of all stripes, keep talking boys! I almost don't care what you talk about. If you get stuck, bring up that new series Rome, exchange lasagna recipes or play charades. We're tired of walking and not doing our jobs and you've got to put this baby to bed.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Kill the king!

To all the managers I've loved before (and those I've yet to meet):

My Friends on the Inside, you may feel tired, overwhelmed, even powerless. But you are not. Far from it, you may be the best chance any of us have of making this nightmare end.

The ideological gulf between the union and your boss is so vast and deep that no hope of a settlement seems possible at the moment -- if nothing changes. So something has to change.

What I'm asking you to do, simply, is to kill the king.

Oh, I'm not asking you to actually physically harm Richard Stursberg, or anyone else foaming at the mouth over the number of staff employees. Such an act would be contrary to the Criminal Code, a bad-faith labour practice and downright rude.

Nor am I asking you to quit, join us on the line or do something that will get you fired. After all, I wouldn't do those things if I were in your Pumas. What I would do, and what you should do starting this very second, is to quietly undermine the bossman. Now why should you do that?

Well, the king is mad. He's a crusader with an agenda hidden deep inside his bodkin. He can't explain the main reason we're out -- why CBC should have a significantly higher number of contract employers than its competitors -- so he has no clothes.

You are serving a mad, nude king.

And every day we're out here staring in at you doing our jobs, sort of, the corporation is becoming a little less recognizable, a little more broken, a little more (permanently?) diminished.

CBCers, those slightly odd articulate types, are listening, watching and reading elsewhere. CBC haters, and there are many, are having Christmas in August. Are you reading the papers?

So what to do? Well, don't be so managerial. Don't go the extra mile. Do your job but leave after eight hours. I know the overtime is tempting but you know the money doesn't really belong to you. You're doing a job that nobody, except the mad, nude king and his hypnotized servants, wants you to do.

Most importantly, in subtle ways, tell the king he is mad and nude. Go to the pep talks but instead of nodding your head or trading tips on sneaking in and out of the building, ask some tough questions.

Why do we need so many contract workers? Don't CTV and Global do just fine with a primarily staff workforce? Why do you continue to tell the public only 5% of CBC staff are on contract when you know it's a blatanly misleading technicality? If we're on the side of right, why don't those on-air apologies use the word "lockout" instead of labour disruption? If you have to be nude, can you at least do some crunches once in a while?

You get Groupwise every day. Send some of it to the union. Send some of it to me. Expose the truth. Mount a palace coup.

If you managers don't go the extra kilometre, the on-air product will deteriorate even further, advertisers will demand their money back, other CBC profit centres will suffer.

Stursberg will face some very tough questions from the board of directors and be pressured to compromise on the contract issue. They and you can end this. It'll be painful to watch but, I think, mercifully quick compared to the assisted asphyxiation we're witnessing today.

Start now. Kill the king.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Girding for battle once again

Week 3 begins. Sound the battle horn. Dig your old Che Guevara T out of the back of the CRV and re-join the latte revolution.

All that to say picketing is weird for a few reasons. Teachers are used to it while steelworkers and the like have it down to a science. I know CBC techs have experience with it but most of the people on the line still look bemused, gobsmacked and horrified, all at the same time.

Some will show up but they won't walk and/or carry a sign. I don't know if Strombo walked but he doesn't do signs. Maybe if we make a black one for him? (Would they sell them in the CBC Shop after we go back in?)

We're mostly a middle or upper-middle class bunch with a high ratio of hipsters and wannabes. We like The Arcade Fire, not The Internationale. We get excited when frappuccinos go on sale.

Aside from the too-cool-for-school factor, there's a good reason many of us feel weird and uncomfortable. Journalism is, usually, all about observing and here we are as the story. We're also taught to keep our opinions to ourselves lest we open ourselves to accusations of bias. By marching we've obviously come down on one side. I don't have too much of a problem with that and, frankly, I need the strike pay.

Where it gets really gooey is when someone like Jack Layton shows up and we're all supposed to clap at the right places. But journalists usually don't clap. We look at our MD recorders, scribble and make faces at each other when the guy says something notable or just stupid.

Even worse, all those people going to Queen's Park to support the Hydro workers. If you're a CBCer who's not a journalist, fine. But the rest of us might be back inside and reporting on that conflict in a week (OK, call me Pollyanna) or producing an item about it. But I'm a little conflicted because I am grateful for other unions' support. I also welcome Jack or any diversion on the line that means I can stop walking for a bit.

For the same reason, I don't think I can do the Labour Day parade even though it would mean a bonus 4 hours of picket duty. Well, I could watch but I couldn't march at the front of the parade. It's not because I'm too cool -- it just goes against years of training. Maybe I'll get over it and get all Fox News and biased on everybody's ass.

Some other random observations:

Has anyone else noticed that really tall security guy? He's balding but has it slicked back in the front and then a mullet in the back. He wears polo shirts and stands at Wellington and does the Secret Service watchful stare like he's guarding Hugo Chavez at a Republican fundraiser. I'm guessing he's a boss. He looks pretty tightly wound. What makes a guy like that tick? I bet he has no time for frappuccinos.

I don't have a problem with dogs on leashes on the line. The local newsletter was a bit over the top with its photos and dire warnings of disaster should a child or a pet find its way into the Long March. If you bring a friendly dog, I'll pet it and we both win. Better yet, bring your cat and let it lead you. It will take you a full eight-hour shift to get around the building. That tall security dude will give you a very mean look.

Robin asked about my reference in the previous post to Jane Chalmers as Robin in a shag to Stursberg's dark knight. It was a Batman reference. I just meant that she seems to be Stursberg's sidekick and not the prime mover in this whole mess.

Some of the reputed manager's blogs talk about a big announcement coming that has nothing to do with bargaining. My gut is it has to be a manangement attempt to put on a version of The National. I'll be sad if they manage it but we've already benefitted from all the lumps columnists have meted out over the Antiques Roadshows reruns, etc., so it's no big deal. How Stursberg failed to get a team together to provide better alternate programming, with all the lead-up time and all the resources at his disposal, is a very interesting question. I'll pop it out if we have a Q and A after the fall launch announcement.

And, finally, speaking of Our Friends Inside, the maybe-manager's blog by Ouimet has a factual error, so maybe she really is a manager. She says of the crowd's inhospitable behaviour when Richard Stursberg bizarrely tried to melt into the mob during a Buzz Hargrove speech: "... next time we send out our old fat guy to talk to your old fat guy, let them hash it out."

In fact, our old bald guy asked your old bald guy to debate. The crowd would have welcomed, nay, loved it. We didn't stop them from hashing it out. Your guy did by turning and running like a rat going down a hole. So when you stop by to pick up your overtime cheque, ask him to try again.