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Radio ga-ga

CBC management and the Canadian Media Guild come to an agreement. Stephanie Domet reports.

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I have this song in my head, an old song by Queen. “Radio Ga-ga.” My partner’s been singing it a lot lately, and so have I. “Radio, what’s new? Radio, someone still loves you.”

That’s what we’ll have to find out, now that there’s a deal, now that the lockout is (almost) officially over. You’ll still see us picketing this week, and that’s because what we have is a deal in principle, which means there’s a committee that’s still writing the actual contract language. Until that’s done, translated into French, voted on and ratified, we stay locked out. And then they have to figure out the back-to-work protocol. The people who make the schedules are out on the street too, remember. So someone inside has to figure out who to bring back first, and when. The first Hockey Night in Canada broadcast is Saturday. Wanna lay bets as to who’ll be back at work first?

So, the deal. Here’s the short version: we won. You won. Public broadcasting won. The corporation will not be allowed to hire more than 9.5 percent of staff as contract between now and the end of the deal, which expires in March 2009. Those who have been on contract for four or more years can convert to staff if they want. And within 90 days of the deal’s ratification, there will be an accounting of current staff status, to make sure everyone is being treated fairly.

Beyond the numbers, percentages and the nitty gritty of the deal, though, there’s the larger victory. Across this country, people are talking about the CBC, about why it matters, or if it matters. Whether it should be funded more, or less, and by whom, and why. This is the kind of conversation the CBC is good at fostering when we’re on the air. And it’s certainly the kind of conversation that needs to be had if the CBC is going to continue to meet its mandate. At its best, the CBC lets Canadians talk to each other about things that matter. If we’re doing our job, the conversation will continue when we’re back at work.

And then, beyond that national conversation, there are 5,500 of us who celebrated early Monday morning when the deal was struck. In the first locked-out weeks, I was brought to tears by the sight of enormously talented broadcasters picketing empty buildings, or total strangers dropping off coffee to the picket lines on rainy days. In the waning hours of the lockout, it’s the giddy, relieved, delighted comments my colleagues left online after the deal was struck that have made me cry. Especially at cbcunplugged.com, which became an incredible electronic gathering place for locked-out workers, CBC listeners and CBC haters alike.

In short, I am so glad to be going back to work, maybe as early as the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and to be going back under a deal that works for the future of public broadcasting. I didn’t realize I was carrying a heavy load until it was lifted. I thought the distractions I’d built up, of writing and projects around the house, were more than distractions—maybe a new way of life. And maybe they will prove to be. But on Monday morning, I read the news online, and I let out a seven-weeks-held breath. If you didn’t hear it, I’m surprised—there were 5,499 similar breaths being let out from coast to coast to coast.

The best thing isn’t that we won. Or that we’ll actually be paid again, sometime in November, for the first time in two months. The best thing is the relationships we’ve built with our colleagues, something we don’t necessarily get to do on the inside (that, right there, may well be part of what’s wrong with the CBC), and the chance to use inside some of what we learned outside; there’s more to our “core business” (as the senior management team calls it) than what we broadcast. We experimented with blogging and podcasting and the experiment was an unparalleled success. And more than that, we learned that if we stand together we are invincible.

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