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Locked in

Stephanie Domet on the newest negotiation tactics between the CBC and the Canadian Media Guild.



"We've just put an offer on the table."

So begins the full page ad in the Globe and Mail (my colleague Tod Maffin reports that such ads cost about $63,000) on Day 45 of the CBC lockout.

It's going to create a lot of talk, this ad. People are going to think it means a deal will soon follow, that we'll be back at work in a matter of days.

It's probably not going to happen. At least, not yet.

One thing this lockout has taught me is that my pre-lockout vision of myself as cynical and jaded was totally, completely wrong. I didn't know ANYTHING about cynicism on August 14. Now? Hell yeah.

First, let's look at why the CBC has put an offer on the table this week. Last week, my union's bargaining committee did the same thing—put an offer it must have known wouldn't have been accepted on the table. Of course, the union doesn't have $63,000 for a full page ad in the Globe to tell everyone about it. But this offer comes in the middle of week seven, three days after the negotiating teams met in Ottawa with labour minister Joe Fontana. He summoned them to his office, dressed down both sides (though his speaking notes are perhaps a little harder on the Corp than on the union), and locked them in, telling them not to come out till they have a deal.

To an employee who's been locked out for seven long weeks, it's encouraging. On the other hand, it's infuriating. Seven weeks! And, coincidentally, Fontana decided he'd had enough of the lockout the very day Parliament resumed, the very day he'd have to face the opposition in question period.

Hard to keep from being cynical.

And so then there's this offer from the CBC. Leaving aside the content of the deal ("only" 90 new contract workers a year? Unless there's going to be a hiring boom, it sounds to me like any positions that come open, when current permanent employees die, retire or move on—or have their project pulled out from under them, as Radio Three employees did earlier this year—will be converted to contract positions. But I digress), releasing such a deal, taking out a full-page ad that features a vague summary of the offer—it's a negotiating tactic. It's a PR move. It's meant to turn the tide of public opinion to the CBC's favour, and it's meant to turn those of us on the Guild against each other.

It's meant to divide and conquer. While we squabble online (ah! the downside to blogging a contract dispute!) about whether this deal is good (executive summary: it's not good), while we snipe at each other because we are tired of being professional walkers and union event organizers and would very much like to get back to continuing our giant conversation with Canadians, the Corp can sit back and rub its hands in glee. And to boot, it can finally get a little good press. They've offered a deal. And if you're just casually reading your Globe and Mail and you don't know what their last offer, on August 11 looked like, you'd have no idea that this offer represents no movement on the part of the Corp.

You'd think, if the union doesn't jump at the chance to accept this offer, that the union is the problem here. That the union is gumming up the negotiating works. You'd be wrong, of course, but you'd be justified in it.

What have I learned from my seven weeks on the line? I've learned how to really be cynical. And, at the same time, I've learned that there is indeed power in a union, and that standing firm is the best thing we can do right now. It's going to be hard. I want to go back to work. But not under these conditions. Not with a contract that threatens the future of public broadcasting. Not with a contract that makes the last seven weeks meaningless (not after I risked dehydration from my bittersweet tears!).

I've become both more jaded, and more earnest. I didn't think it was possible for anyone to be more of either of those than I was on August 14. And while I don't believe every word my union leaders say (see: jaded, more), I've also become more passionate about the power of a union. The eight-hour day, workers' comp, overtime, vacation pay...and the weekend. All brought to you by unions.

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