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.


Blogger kanadskaya said...

I, too, am a freelancer. Unlike you, I work for CBC only occasionally, and have many clients.
If, as you suggest, the CMG makes "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..." and we are MORE expensive for them I think the end you desire will not happen, you will not get a staff job at CBC. We will just get less work from them and we will have to look elsewhere for work. Is that what you want? Not I.
If you feel you are worth more than what the CMG contract allows, you are free to negotiate a higher rate. Yes, you must make enough money for retirement, insurance, etc.
Don't make us freelancers less attractive for CBC to use - be careful what you wish for, because it may come to pass.... and then we'll both be out of work!

26/9/05 22:40  

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