Free Press dispute gets nasty

(Not that I’ve ever witnessed a labour disruption that didn’t get tense)

Normally, in a show of good faith and to allow the bargaining process to proceed, both sides of a labour negotiation will keep the details of what’s said during talks to themselves. The union will advise its membership of any major issues, as well as give a general idea how talks are going, but that’s about it.

When the door closes and workers are on strike or lockout, that changes. It usually starts with the union, which decides to negotiate through the media. Inevitably, the employer responds to correct any “fals” or “misleading” statements that sully its good name.

The Winnipeg Free Press is on that course. Workers went on strike last week and quickly started up a competing news website at freepressonstrike.com, which includes news about the strike itself.

Yesterday, the Free Press (which can’t put out a newspaper and is instead just posting updates to its website) issued a statement correcting the record and offering its side of the dispute. Its main argument is that workers are paid well (better than at other papers) and get good benefits (like sick leave and holidays and stuff!). That statement led to stories from Canadian Press and CBC (the latter also talks about some silliness involving pork).

The striking workers countered with their own statement that many workers are paid at or near (or even below) minimum wage, and that it has been open and honest, posting offers on its website for all to see.

Unfortunately, both statements make both sides look childish in this process, and are good indications for why this kind of thing is normally not done. Both sides essentially accuse the other of being unreasonable and refusing to negotiate. It’s like two three-year-olds complaining to their mother that the other one is being mean.

Meanwhile, talks resumed this morning, as the union issued another statement that it had begun picketing a non-union shop that was distributing flyers for the FP (the publisher does not understand why a union on strike would have a problem with that?)

Here’s hoping those talks go well.

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