Sunday, September 25, 2005

Calling All Freelancers, Casuals and Temps

1. Do you feel that the current CBC/CMG collective agreement adequately covers the issues concerning non-permanent employees?

2. When your services are engaged by CBC are you offered more than one option re: the type of contract or employment status?

3. Do you receive the first draft of your contract well in advance of the assignment, to allow sufficient time to negotiate?

4. Do you feel the pay scales in the collective agreement for non-permanent employees are adequate to cover your job or the tasks for which you are contracted?

5. Are you economically dependent on CBC?

6. Is there a market for the work you do outside CBC, or is the work specific to CBC's needs?

7. If CBC calls you an independent contractor, do you have doubts that that is really what you are under the Canadian Labour Standards Code?

8. If you are a freelancer, are you satisfied with the information/representation you have received from the "Freelance Branch" of the union?

9. If you are in a non-permanent category other than freelance, do you think all non-permanents are entitled to a separate branch of the union, not just freelancers?

Please e-mail your thoughts on these questions, and other issues of concern to you, to CBCFreelancer@aol.com.


The postings that have been made on this site, to date, have led some people to think it is an anti-union site. The postings may not have been very complimentary to the CMG. I am in favour of the union's position not to allow CBC to become an employer that has an unlimited license to treat people the way they have been treating casual and freelance employees and some temporary employees, to date. However, I am equally in favour of the CMG giving good representation to the dues-paying members they currently have in those categories.

Like most CBC workers, in any job classification, I love my work, am proud of the quality of programming for which CBC has always stood, enjoy the company of my co-workers and believe in public broadcasting.

The outpouring of blogs, newspaper editorials and web stories from workers in freelance, casual and temporary classifications is astounding. How did it come to this is a unionized organization? Yet, the CMG does not treat this problem as a priority and is still not listening.

When the CMG tabled its recent "offer of settlement" (which was promptly rejected by the corporation), the covering e-mail that was sent to members said it included "better rights and fees for freelance workers". Upon reading the offer, some freelance members would actually be worse-off under it. For some reason, throughout its history, the "Freelance Branch" of the CMG has conducted itself as though workers on "Freelance Contributor" contracts were the only ones who deserve representation. Could this be because the President of the Executive Committee for this "branch" is a Freelance Contributor? It's a fair question.

Let's make the CMG listen to all its members. Contribute your comments and we will hold the CMG accountable until a new collective agreement is signed and beyond.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sick of Subsidizing CBC

While walking in circles around Toronto’s Broadcast Centre, I’ve encountered some puzzling reactions from co-workers. “What are you doing here?” is the most common.

I’m a freelancer. I’ve done work for CBC for nearly 20 years. But, I’ve gone from one short or medium-term freelance contract to another. Every time I negotiate a new contract, I become more aware that management in my department, the Business Affairs Department, the Legal Department and the Canadian Media Guild all need to learn more about freelancing. Now, I know that my fellow workers do too.

One co-worker said to me, “I thought you’d just go away on a holiday until this was over”. Sure, freelancers are all independently wealthy. We just work for the fun of it. Another thanked me and told me how nice I was to come out and support their cause. I am one of them and it’s my cause too. The most offensive, and most frequent response, has been, “Just go work somewhere else”. Yeah, just because I’m freelance, every media organization has work just waiting for me. All I have to do is call. Then when the CBC Lockout is over, I’m sure the other organization would understand if I just up and left.

The first rule every freelancer knows is that you are always looking for work. You can’t ever let up on that. But, if one assignment takes excessive time, you lose momentum on finding your next one and keeping up your network of contacts. Then, you will probably find yourself with some “down time”. Very short periods of time are hard to fill. So, short periods of down time are actually periods without pay.

Freelancers have to supply all their own equipment, pay 100% of their CPP contribution (including the employer’s half), save for their own retirement and have no health benefits and no paid sick leave. They are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance. The CMG is a unique union in that, within it, freelancers have the right to collective bargaining. Freelancers in most organizations do not unless they form their own organization. The question remains, how much collective bargaining is the CMG doing on behalf of freelancers? Having the right to something is different than having it.

Freelancers absorb the cost of their own equipment. We have to save for our own pension. We have to take the risk of getting sick and having no paid sick leave, health coverage or long-term disability. We take the risk of not being able to fill down time between assignments. Freelancers need to be paid a premium, in addition to the basic fee for the work, to cover these costs and risks. In this were not the case, freelancers would be simply cheap labour or suckers who are willing to supply equipment and pay expenses that are traditionally borne by the employer. These costs are buried in the price of every other product we buy. Why should CBC expect me to create a product for anything less?

Freelancing has it’s benefits too. Just like CBC management, I like flexibility and freelancing allows me that. Many freelancers work self-assigned hours. A job for life is not everyone’s ideal.

However, during my years at CBC, I have frequently had to dig in to my retirement savings or turn to family to cover a lack of income during down time between assignments, to cover time that was reserved by CBC and not used, or to cover periods of sick leave. My family and I are both fed up with subsidizing CBC.

The answer to the issue that is central to this CBC/CMG dispute might be for CMG to make freelancers less appealing to CBC. If the CMG fought for a proper pay scale, in which CBC bears the expenses they rightfully owe us, CBC might no longer see us as suckers who equal cheap labour.

If CBC management, the CMG and CBC’s permanent staff had been given a short introduction to “Freelancing 101”, the current battle might not even have come to this.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Who's The "Bad Guy"?

In every drama, be it a novel or a movie, there are good guys and bad guys. The usual formula is to make the audience believe at the start that the “bad guy” is a particular character. Then as the plot moves through twists and turns, the author teases with other possibilities. He takes you back and forth between various characters and back again to the original suspect. The intention is to make you change your mind and change it back again, over and over. Some dramatic works have surprise endings in which the “bad guy” is someone you never suspected. Others tease your imagination repeatedly, only to have the ending conclude that your first instincts were right all along.

As we move into Act 6 of the CBC Lockout, there are clearly mixed reactions about who really is the villain. The corporation locked us out. That made them the early suspect.

However, if you read my fellow bloggers on www.cbcunplugged.com, or check out “My Stories” on www.cbcontheline.ca, there has evidently been much indecision to date. Read the blog by Alison, a reporter in Winnipeg and she doesn’t seem to trust the CMG. An anonymous Toronto writer says he has issues with both union and management, a feeling that I’d guess resonates with many locked-out members. He accuses the CMG of treating “casuals and contracts like shit in favour of golden staffers”. A Windsor VJ also talks about the problems of temps and casuals. Don, a Vancouver food commentator touts the virtues the CMG’s Freelance Branch and all that it has done for him. He happens to be President of the CMG Freelance Executive Committee. Justin in Toronto writes about the “Perma-Temp”, giving an insightful perspective on what happens when corporations stop treating workers like people. “Locked Out x2”, a PEI radio reporter, addresses the union directly in her title, “CMG: What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Robin, from on-line news in Toronto raises a poignant question in his blog, “What Happens When a Casual Gets Cancer?”

Among “Your Stories” on www.cbcontheline.ca areDave King’s “Finding Stability North of 60”; Garvia Bailey’s “Committed to An Uncertain Future”; Philly Markowitz’s “My Life as a Freelancer”; Amanda Morrall’s “The Casual Blues”; The Last Days of Laurie Allan”; and Donna Dingwall’s “Does the Mothercorp Really Like Mothers?” All of these provide insight about a neglected group of CBC’s locked-out workers.

Reading these, you could make the argument that the CMG has failed to represent non-permanent employees, even though they are dues-paying members. However, there is another twist in the plot. Go to www.cbcnegotiations.ca and read “Contractual Does Not Mean Disposable”. The corp gets some their facts straight. They state that many of these people have worked at CBC for many years and are some of the most passionately committed defenders of public broadcasting. However, they also say that contractual employees receive either cash in lieu of benefits or benefits. No so for all. They also say that contractual employees enjoy the benefits of membership in the CMG. What the CMG has done for these people is still in question. The corp also says that many contractual employees receive financial compensation if their contract is not renewed. Again, it depends on your type of contract.

Now, I’m really confused about who’s the “bad guy”. I’m clearly not alone in feeling non-permanent workers have not been well represented by the CMG. The corp, however has played a role in this and the CMG has been their puppet, not our defender. In the 2003 Collective Agreement, CBC and the CMG agreed on including contracts types that, without exception, exclude some workers from benefits (or cash on lieu of), financial compensation when their contract is not renewed, pension and seniority. This same group can be terminated no notice, gets no vacation pay and gets a contract in which all the clauses favour of corporation. You can’t blame the CBC for wanting this, but we can thank the CMG for agreeing to it.

Can we expect our leaders to do better for us this time?

The CBC appears to believe that all contractual employees have these perks now. If they want that to be the case, then they should tell their bargaining committee.

When this drama finally ends, who will be the bad guy? Does there have to be just one?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Freelancers Are People Too

Kudos to Noah Richler for his editorial in the September 14th Globe and Mail. Of the many journalists who have weighed in on the CBC Lockout, he is the first to see what's at the heart of the matter.
Richler has worked on contract at CBC. Like many of us freelancers and contract workers, he is a qualified and experienced journalist. Whether you call it contract, freelance, casual or temporary, it comes with many of the same problems. As Richler so poignantly noted, the CMG is happy to collect dues from non-permanent staff, but they provide little, if any, representation. They have what they call a "freelance branch". However, the difference between freelance and other non-permanent status is little more than semantics. That branch has done nothing to help me get a better contract or better status since the CMG was born. No such branch exists for other non-permanents. At the bargaining table, the CMG is more obsessed with limiting the number of us than with getting us a fair deal in the collective agreement.
The CMG says they don't want to allow CBC to create a "disposable" workforce. Then they should do the job they are getting paid to do and negotiate as vigorously for the working conditions and benefits of people with "disposable" employment status. If they did that, it might no longer be so appealing to management to have more of us.
All freelancers, casuals and contract employees out there, get after the CMG to represent you. Don't let the end of bargaining for this collective agreement go by without being sure you are included. Contact the CMG and tell them what needs to be discussed at the bargaining table on your behalf.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

welcome