Week four. Many of us didn’t believe it would last this long. Others think it’ll go on for a while yet. So much time to think on the line. Lately, I’ve been thinking about security.
I’ve been on contracts of varying lengths at CBC for three years. My current contract is for 12 months; it’s the longest I’ve had. For me, being on contract hasn’t been a huge deal—I already had a mortgage when I started at the Ceeb. Being on contract, rather than being staff, has meant it’s been easy for me to move around a little. I went out to Winnipeg three years ago to take a job with Definitely Not the Opera. I was able to come back to Halifax for 10 weeks that first summer, and then I eventually managed to get my job moved here. In the three years I’ve had the job, I’ve filled a number of different roles for the corp., from helping develop new shows, to making content for a well-established one, to running the Content Factory desk, making and sending mini-documentaries keyed to the news of the day to 26 CBC stations across Canada. I’ve been flexible for the corporation, and they’ve been flexible, I guess, in not caring too deeply where I live to do this work.
Before the CBC locked my colleagues and me out, I thought I was working toward a staff job, that some day, eventually, my unit would have to hire me, make the job I’ve been doing for years a permanent position. I see now, however, that I am merely a freelancer. An extremely privileged one, to be sure, but a freelancer nonetheless. I’ve always felt sure my contract would be extended. My old boss liked me, and I felt confident he’d look after me, that he valued my work and would find ways to keep me around. My new boss likes me too, and I know she’d do anything to keep me. But now my old boss is a manager, and he’s in Toronto these days, I imagine doing some kind of struck work deep in the Broadcast Centre. And who’s looking after my new boss? I don’t know. She’s been a CBC journalist for 10 years, maybe more, since she was in her very early 20s. Is her job secure? Maybe, maybe not.
Truthfully? It’s hard to know. Management says they just want the flexibility to hire some workers on short-term contract. The thing is, they already have that flexibility. And on top of that, their workforce is incredibly flexible as it is. By management’s own admission, we’ve developed and produced 30 new shows over the past couple of years. What do they really mean when they say they want flexibility? I don’t know for sure, but I bet it doesn’t have anything to do with security.
You could argue that this whole thing is about security, the security of the public broadcaster itself. A diverse CBC is a strong one, and I’m not talking about the insulting lip service the Ceeb usually pays to diversity. I mean a workforce that offers both the depth of permanent employees—the collective wisdom that keeps each generation from making the same stupid mistakes, not to mention the mentoring power provided by producers like Stewart Young, reporters like Steve Puddicombe, and execs like my boss, Iris Yudai—and the flexibility and energy and ideas that come when you introduce new blood to a team. It’s not that we shouldn’t have freelancers and contract workers in the picture. It’s just that the picture shouldn’t be made up largely of them. The “casualisation” of the workforce—casuals don’t tend to have contracts at all, they just find out from week to week if they’re on the schedule—doesn’t mean security for the workers, and it sure doesn’t mean security for the listeners and viewers.
But these days, security at the CBC seems to amount to a gaggle of rent-a-cops that spend their time possibly even more tediously than my colleagues do these days. As we endlessly march, wearing our sneaker soles down on the sidewalks of Sackville Street and Bell Road, they sit in their cars rented from Enterprise, in the parking lot or across the street, and they watch us, making sure we don’t set foot on CBC property. As I get to the end of each lap on Sackville Street, I turn to go back the other way, and I look hard toward their car. Usually, one guard in the pair appears to be asleep. I’ve heard they were told to expect to have their jobs for two, maybe three weeks. Four weeks in, it looks like their jobs, at least, have become more a secure for a while longer.