There’s more than a $10,500 wage gap frustrating the Canadian Media Guild’s (CMG) efforts to secure a first contract for broadcast technicians at Corus Entertainment in Toronto. The union also alleges the company is breaking the law by discouraging employees who want to join a union.
CMG represents nearly 50 broadcast technicians at Corus’s offices in Toronto. The union and the company have been negotiating a first contract since March. Meetings are scheduled for the end of November. Legal counsel for the union, Sean FitzPatrick, said talks have largely gone well, and the sides have come to agreement on most issues.
But they’re thousands of dollars apart on one key item: fair wages.
Some broadcast technicians are being paid, on average, $10,500 per annum less than their colleagues.
The wage difference stems from Corus’s purchase of Shaw Media in 2016. The $2.65 billion sale saw Corus take control of 19 speciality channels, including Food Network Canada, HGTV Canada, HISTORY and Slice. It also included Global’s conventional stations across the country.
The Shaw family owns both Corus and Shaw Media.
The CMG represented 17 broadcast technicians at Shaw. These employees moved to the Corus building in fall 2016 and began working alongside 31 non-unionized Corus employees.
In January, broadcast technicians at Corus voted to join CMG. It was far from unanimous. The original vote was 24 to 23. Corus challenged the ballot of former local union president Kelly Walsh. Corus withdrew its challenge after votes were counted on January 27. Walsh’s ballot was counted on January 31. It was in favour of the union, making the final result 25 voting “yes” to 23 voting “no”.
The labour board certified the union in February.
Negotiations for a first contract began in March. (The contract between Shaw and CMG expired at the end of April.)
Chief among members’ concerns is former Shaw employees make more money for doing the same job as technicians who were always with Corus.
The union wants to reduce that gap during the next three years, said FitzPatrick. But, he said, the union’s been told the company is only interested in raising wages by 1 per cent.
The company’s proposal of a minimal wage increase comes as Corus continues to turn a profit. Fourth-quarter results, released in October, say the company’s consolidated revenue for the last fiscal year has increased by 43 per cent compared to this time last year. In a report to shareholders, the company attributes some of this growth to its purchase of Shaw Media.
Other TV companies, like Zoomer Media, use Corus’s facilities to broadcast their signals. CMG members are the technicians for these signals, too. Matt Douglas, CMG staff representative, estimated Corus earns $20,000 a month because of this work.
“We’re asking for a very small portion of what they’re bringing in from the other channels,” said Matt Douglas, CMG staff representative.
The union also alleges Corus is discouraging employees from joining a union.
Corus only wants to negotiate a contract that would expire on April 30. “This doesn’t make sense at all,” said FitzPatrick, who said one-year contracts are basically unheard of because it means the company and union are constantly in negotiations.
In an emailed statement to rabble.ca, Corus said the company is “engaged in ongoing discussions related to a variety of items, including wages and benefits. Our current focus remains on working through this process so we can reach a deal that’s in the best interests of our people and Corus.”
rabble.ca asked Corus if it was considering the length of the contract. The company said it would not comment on specific parts of the contract because negotiations are continuing.
The union hopes to negotiate a contract soon.
“The workplace dynamic is good,” said FitzPatrick. “We don’t want to upset that dynamic. We just want Corus to take a deep breath and treat us with respect and negotiate like adults with us.”
FitzPatrick listed the short contract among ways the company is “generally trying to frustrate people who are wanting to be represented by a union.” Legally, members can vote out unions during the last three months of contracts that run for less than three years. Shorter contracts could give employees a “constant ability (to) vote out the union,” he said.
The company has made its anti-union stance clear. Hours after employees voted to join the union, they were told they would no longer receive parking passes. On January 31, shortly after the challenged ballot was counted, Corus employees who had joined the union for the first time received an email saying their employee benefits and pensions were now being determined by the agreement between Shaw and CMG.
This email was sent before the labour board certified the union.
The Canadian Labour Code, which regulates broadcasters, says someone cannot intimidate or coerce someone to join, or refuse to join, a union. In March, CMG filed a complaint with the Canadian Labour Board alleging Corus has engaged in unfair work practices.
The law says a company can’t change the terms of employment after employees vote to join a union, said FitzPatrick, unless the labour board orders them to do so or the union gives them permission.
The union says in the complaint neither it nor Corus had asked for the Shaw contract to apply to members who had previously been unrepresented by a union.
FitzPatrick called some of the company’s actions since the unionization certification “petty,” such as reducing the amount the company would pay for prescription eye glasses from $300 every two years to $200 every two years.
The company favours non-unionized employees in other ways. An email sent to all staff said non-unionized employees could take the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving off while unionized employees had to work. Non-unionized employees can also take Friday afternoons off during the summer along as they make the hours up later.
Some Corus employees have also sought for the union to be removed. In March, a Corus employee asked the labour board to revoke the union’s certification. CMG objected, saying the law says such votes can’t happen within the first 12 months after a union has been certified. In May, the labour board unanimously denied the request for a revocation vote.
Sean FitzPatrick told rabble.ca in an email that Corus has appealed this decision. The company did not respond to an email asking for comment on this decision before deadline.
Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca’s labour reporter