Nose pressed to glass

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.