Saturday, October 29, 2005

Solidarity Forever -- Not for Me

Some of the people who have e-mailed me after reading this blog have said I sounded “angry”. I’m a lousy blogger because I haven’t posted in nearly 2 weeks, but that’s not because of anger. It’s because, now that we’re back at work there’s not a lot of time for posting blogs. And that’s a shame because the battle is far from over.

I’m am angry. The people who observed that were right. I’m still angry. Today I did a Google blog search with the keywords “CBC freelancer”. Of course, some of the results the search returned were from this site. But the amount of other good, strong and heartfelt information was staggering. We can only hope the Canadian Media Guild and CBC management read the blogs.

CBC and the CMG have a problem. It's that freelancers work hard and belong to this union too. And we're fed up. Unfortunately, the CMG is just waking up about it. I don’t think the CBC even knows about it. As we start our fourth week back in the building nothing appears to have changed in management’s pure ignorance of the major lockout issues or, specifically, freelancing.

Some people believe that the bigger and more powerful organizations always win against the little guy. I believe that is often true, but not always. Probably more often, because those organizations are so successful at intimidating the little guy. The environment of fear that exists among workers at CBC is a fine example. Of the freelancers who have contacted me as a result of this blog, less than 5 used their real name in contacting me. Even they requested that their name not be associated with their thoughts and input. I have honoured their wishes. The remainder have used pseudonyms but, in some cases, given away a lot about themselves.

I believe that a few “little people”, even the most vulnerable ones, can make change against big organizations with more power and lots of money.

The CMG chanted a lot about "solidarity forever". I have laboured in solidarity with my co-workers for many years. That won't change. I still have fond feelings for them because they treat me well and they’re great people. Like many CBC workers, I remain loyal to the CBC as an institution in whose purpose and mandate I believe strongly. I enjoy being part of, what will hopefully remain, the finest quality broadcasting in Canada.

But solidarity with a union that completely failed, neglected and even misled an important group of its members? Not me. I walked the line because I needed the money, to support my co-workers and to support public broadcasting. One of the best parts of the experience was having the time to get to know some co-workers better. But, I now feel almost ashamed and embarrassed to have pounded the pavement appearing to support a union that failed so miserably at supporting its membership.

Like most people who are drawn to journalism. I am a person of strong principles. I react when I uncover wrong-doing. The way in which the CMG failed us does not effect only freelancers. It effects the very people they professed to be protecting. By demanding a ceiling on the number of contract employees, they opened the flood gates for CBC to hire more freelancers. These new hires are more likely to be forced freelancers, instead of freelancers-by-choice. And, thanks to the CMG’s agreement with CBC on standard form contracts, even the freelancers-by-choice have no choice about anything. Our rights must have been one of those “throw-aways” negotiators speak of. They threw us to the wolves in favour of something that would, no doubt, benefit the CMG more than it’s members.

The CMG set out to limit the CBC’s wish for “a more flexible workforce” and ended up opening the door for more of the most vulnerable workers to be created. And the CMG took 17 months to do this, while representing our needs. Freelancers are not the only losers. The CMG lost on behalf of all of us and the future of the CBC.

I will remain in solidarity with those who do the right thing and are honest about what they are paid to do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why CBC Freelancers Are Outraged

I once heard documentary producer Michael Moore interviewed and he was asked why he felt so passionately about the issues he takes on. He said he had always felt strongly about right and wrong. Even as a kid, he said, if there wasn’t enough chocolate milk for everybody in the school cafeteria, he was the one to speak up. He wanted those in charge to know it was wrong.

I identified with Moore because I’ve always been the same way. Some think it’s just complaining. I prefer to see it as holding the people who affect our lives accountable.

That’s why I’ve talked to and e-mailed other CBC freelancers since the CMG claimed great victory with their new collective agreement.

My unscientific poll produced common themes, and some interesting thoughts. It included input from both forced freelancers and freelancers-by-choice. The new agreement may have dealt with some of the problems of the forced freelancer, but even they are cautious. It may improve their chances of becoming a temporary employee. But, just as no one should be forced to be a freelancer to get work, a freelancer-by-choice should not be forced to become an employee just to keep work. So, that group is unsure if it did anything at all for them.

The following are the major reasons that many freelancers voted NO for the new collective agreement and, even those who voted YES, are still grappling with their choice.

1) On October 12th, freelancers (including some very long-service ones) watched their co-workers (including casuals with comparatively limited service) get a $1,000 signing bonus. In the near future, they will see them get a retroactivity payment. With the exception of one classification of freelancers, the rest will get nothing. That one classification will get half the signing bonus and no retroactivity. This, in spite of the fact that CMG twice published (once in a newsletter and much later on their website) that every member would get it. “I think everyone who was eligible to vote should get it”, one respondent said. “Another kick in the teeth”, a long-service freelancer called it. Another described it as “Terribly sad”.

2) The agreement eliminated the only classification of freelancer that was entitled to money in lieu of benefits. However, it retained the freelance classification that has the least rights, has no standard pay scales and to whom the standard contract gives virtually no rights. This opens the door for more abuse than a higher number of contract employees would have. Contract employees get benefits or money in lieu of. Yet the number of contract employees was the central issue of the dispute. The agreement does not stipulate what the eliminated classification is to be replaced with. “I wish I had never known what I know now”, one freelancer who enjoyed her work before the lockout said.

3) For roles performed by many freelancers, the Collective Agreement says simply that freelancers will not be paid less than a staff person doing a similar job. But, even if the corporation complies with this clause, it means that most freelancers are still paid less because they pay their own overhead. There is no provision for this in the agreement, so there is no actual salary scale for freelancers. One respondent said, “Imagine if management said to employees that they now have to bring in their own stationary, computers, printers, ink cartridges, use their own cell phones, save for their own pension, pay for their own health care and pay the premiums on their own government benefits? The CMG would go nuts!” As a result of this discrepancy, even if management complies with the Collective Agreement, freelancers are automatically paid 20% to 45% less than their staff counterparts.

4) The CMG has allowed the corporation to create and use standard freelance contracts in which most rights are in favour of the corporation. For example, although they use ambiguous wording, they can cancel the services with no notice, no payment in lieu of notice, and non-payment for work already performed. “I read that clause in several contracts I signed”, one respondent said. “Then I realized what it meant. They try to trick you. I hoped the union would address these contracts this time”.

5) The new agreement has new copyright provisions for one type of freelancer. “They seem absurd”, said one respondent who works as both a freelancer and a casual. The new clauses are ambiguous and, in both cases, CBC owns copyright, with different provisions for re-use by the author. “Either you own copyright or you don’t”, this respondent said. Most felt the copyright issues should be straightforward and more negotiable.

6) The article dealing with freelance contracts in the Collective Agreement states simply that the freelancer will have a signed contract before work begins. “How fair is that?”, a freelancer of nearly 20 years said. “Before” could mean one minute or one month. “How do you negotiate the terms under those circumstances?” Too often, this results in freelancers starting work before the corporation accepts their terms because they don't want to turn down the work -- only to find out that the corporation refuses to accept their terms.

7) Several respondents said that they think “the fight for better conditions in the 2009 agreement starts now”. Very true, but that will be an uphill battle. The new agreement has a provision for a freelance committee. However, it says this committee will meet just three times a year. They have a lot of things to accomplish in three meetings a year.

8) One of the oddest responses was that some freelancers are still, after many years of service, required to enter the building as visitors. “I’m not a security risk”, one said.

During the lockout, Michael Moore was quoted as saying that CBC was “operating like an American corporation”. American author Barbara Ehrenreich spoke to CNN recently, about her new book “Bait and Switch”. She is also the author of “Nickel and Dimed”. Ehrenreich told CNN the new corporate trend is for top executives to look good by saving money on such things as employee benefits, severance pay and other costs that workers used to take for granted. She said that white collar workers have not historically been accustomed to grouping together to stand up for their rights. The CMG is a predominantly white-collar union and, it appears that we have to learn to do that. Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Welcome to the world of freelancing at CBC with CMG to protect your rights.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Freelance Watchdog Responds

Someone using the alias “Voltaire” has made three comments on this bog and we would like to respond. We know who you are Voltaire. Your last comment screamed loud and clear of words that we, and most CMG-member freelancers, have heard before. But, as usual, you didn’t get it. And, as you often do, you argued back about topics that hadn’t been mentioned.

Don’t worry, we respect your wish for anonymity. Bloggers know that we’re not just talking amongst ourselves. After all, this is the world wide web.

We have to correct Voltaire on his first point. No one “complained” about freelancers not receiving information from the CMG. We stated a fact -- that they didn’t. Voltaire suggested that they should just ask. Is he suggesting freelancers call the CMG office every day, or even every week, to ask if there’s anything they should know? Most of us are busy working hard for CBC. There are so many things that maybe they should know, at any given time. There are elections of officials (or so we're told), negotiation updates, strike votes, and ratification votes. The recent negotiations went on for nearly a year and a half. How does one know when to call? We all belong to other professional and recreational organizations and receive their group e-mails regularly. With today’s technology, it just takes the push of a button to reach all freelancers.

Voltaire said these people should have gotten information at picket headquarters or on the many websites that were created. If they work outside of, or only occasionally at, a CBC site, and thought freelancers were not eligible to picket, what would they be doing at picket headquarters? They’d only know about the lockout from listening to the news. And, how would they know about the “many (newly created) websites”? (Besides, I don’t recall seeing any of these sites talk about the minimum work requirements for eligibility.)

Voltaire said that no one should work without a contract. Pardon me, but I don’t remember seeing anyone raise that issue on this blog. I also don’t know any freelancer who is dumb enough to do so. And thanks so much for the definition of contract. I wasn’t aware anyone had expressed confusion over what a contract is. Voltaire’s response is typical union rhetoric. Not very sophisticated advice, but it’s a lot easier than negotiating conditions under which a freelancer can get a fair contract.

If, as Voltaire suggests, “making change from the inside” is the best way, why have freelance conditions at the CBC gone downhill since the creation of the “Freelance Branch”?. We have a whole “Branch” devoted to us. Other groups, that have their own set of problems, don’t get a “Branch”. Thanks to the new agreement, it will be 2009 before real change can take place. The most talented freelancers may have been driven out of CBC by then.

Again, we must correct Voltaire, we have not taken “pot shots” at anyone. And the accusation is rather amusing. It was Voltaire, in a comment following an earlier post, who outright insulted Richard Stursburg. It was no little pot shot. This blog has raised a collection of unresolved freelance issues. And raised some questions. Anything that has been stated about anyone by name, is fact. Why is CBC upper management fair game for mud-slinging and personal insults, but the CMG is not even subject to question? Remember, Voltaire, that someone on either side of a battle can be right or wrong at least once.

Although Voltaire notes that the word casual does not exist in a collective agreement, that makes it ever more interesting how many of them CBC has created under CMG’s jurisdiction.

Keep the comments coming Voltaire. You are helping us to prove our point. If you can dispute, with reasonable facts, the issues and questions, then I also welcome your comments.

As always, freelancers who have not done so already, are welcome to raise their issues at CBCFreelancer@aol.com.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Underclass of the Canadian Media Guild

A funny thing happened at the ratification meeting in Toronto. A permanent employee said, “I don’t know why we’ve been out on the street for a bunch of freelancers.” Actually, I don’t know why I’ve been paying union dues and denied my work for permanent employees. This person’s misinterpretation was probably due to the fact that many, many of the questions raised at the meeting were about freelance and other non-permanent issues.

The new agreement has made it clear that either the CBC or the CMG doesn’t want freelancers. You have to suspect it’s the CMG, since the CBC wanted “flexibility”. The CMG has put so much effort into protecting forced freelancers that they forgot some people are freelancers-by-choice. We agree that no one should be forced to accept freelance status just to get work. But the CMG Freelance Branch has a broader obligation. The union representation of freelancers-by-choice needs to include fair contracts that have benefits for both sides, a fair negotiation process, adequate time to negotiate a contract, and an understanding by both the CMG and CBC staff of the way in which freelancers are compensated to cover their overhead as well as a rate of pay that equals staff members.

Another area in which they have failed this group of members is in informing them of union activity. Freelancers work variable hours, are often self-assigned and often work off-site rather than in a CBC office. No freelancer I know was notified of the strike vote in July. Many were not aware that they were even eligible to vote. I’m certain that there was a significant number of freelancers who did not picket because they were not aware of eligibility for lockout pay. I know a few who found out late in the lockout that they were eligible and began to picket.

More than 2000 members did not vote in the ratification process. No doubt, some just couldn’t make it. Others may have had other jobs during the lockout. But, how many were freelancers who didn’t know they could vote? How many were members who just didn’t care enough to come out and vote? And, how many were members who bought into the spin the CMG put on from the outset – that it was a done deal.

The biggest insult to freelancers in the new Collective Agreement, and possibly the most hap-hazard use of language, comes in the “Definition of Terms”. “Employee” is defined as “any person hired by the Corporation in any classification of this Collective Agreement and any other classification created by the Corporation that would fall within this bargaining unit. The term employee does not include freelancers.” CMG President Lise Lareau was not truthful about the presence of this definition when she took questions following her “victory speech”. However, under the laws of Canada, freelancers are employees. What someone at the bargaining table was trying to accomplish with this degrading new addition to the agreement is unclear. Many freelancers make contributions that equal or exceed that of staff contributions to programming. Upon reading that I was not considered an employee by the CBC or the CMG, I immediately looked at the article about union dues. It says the corporation will collect them from every employee. Does that means freelancers don’t have to pay them? It would be an interesting challenge.

What has particularly saddened me is the number of people I encountered on the picket line and to whom I listened at the ratification meetings, who don’t know exactly what their status is. I met high-profile commentators who thought they were freelancers because the re-negotiate a contract every year. It turned out they are contract employees. I met temporary, part-time and casual staff who thought they were freelancers and vice versa. One sad case thought she was a contract employee because she signed a contract. Not a difficult mistake to make, but one with big consequences. As a contract employee she would have medical benefits. It turned out the poor girl was a freelancer and had nothing but the paltry sum she had been paid. The CMG and the CBC has to cease blurring the lines between classifications with the simplistic names they give the vastly different classifications and contract types.

This emphasizes that every member should have been given adequate time to read the agreement before voting. And everyone should have been advised of their classification, in CMG language, before reading. It’s been a week since this agreement, which the CMG proclaimed a great victory, was ratified. I wonder how many people still aren’t clear on what they are and to what they are entitled. I wonder how many would be happy with it if they knew.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Congrats to Ottawa Temps

Congratulations to a group of temps (formerly casuals) in Ottawa for uniting and forming a national collective for CBC workers with similar concerns. “The National Temp Collective” (see www.sparkslockout.blogspot.com) indicates that temps, like freelancers, are not happy with either the CBC or what the CMG has done about their issues.

Another blogger, CBC Drone, recently wrote about how to deal with all the anger he has towards CBC management when going back to work.

Let’s take a serious look at how to direct that anger. CBC Management locked us out. None of us agree with that. But, our union would have led us into a strike if they hadn’t. The need for a National Temp Collective shows that not everyone agrees with the exclamation about the new agreement, “We won!”.

As the efforts of these temps and a lot of freelance experiences indicate, CBC Management, Human Resources, Business Affairs and the legal department will all abuse workers rights to get more for less. But, only to the extent that the CMG lets them. And, isn’t preventing abuse why we have a union in the first place? I have the most experience with freelance issues, but my experience tells me that the CMG is willing to open the flood gates for abusive practices against the most vulnerable.

If anyone is interested in joining a National Coalition of CBC Freelancers, please e-mail me at CBCFreelancer@aol.com. If you feel more comfortable intially being anonymous, that's fine. We'd still like to hear your thoughts on the handling of freelance issues. Eventually, if you decide to join the Coalition you will have to reveal your identity. As the Ottawa group knows, there is strength in numbers. We have options to deal with our issues.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

It Was All for Hockey, Not for Us

Sadly, the outcome of the bitter dispute between the Canadian Media Guild and the CBC was all in the name of hockey. That’s like George Bush fighting his “War on Terror” against a country that was not the root of terrorism, but has a huge supply of oil. The CMG claims a great victory, not only for us, but for labour relations history. There was no great victory. The real winner was the NHL, with the CBC a close second.

CBC’s workers were the victims of a 8-week lockout and our union took 17 months to settle for a mediocre and vague collective agreement. Our employment rights and our ability to carry out our chosen careers have been put in jeopardy in a five-year agreement for the benefit of couple of hockey games.

It’s been treated, by both the corporation and the union as a “done deal” before voting was complete. My question is “who audits the vote counting?” The CMG has decided they have a victory, so will they put the same kind of spin on their official results, as they put on the agreement.

After a full day at a ratification and voting meeting in Toronto, it was clear there are a significant number of dissenters. And non-permanent staff were not the only ones with serious issues. Union leaders dodged most questions by blaming unsolved problems on what they “inherited” from ACTRA (The CMG has had a decade or more to solve these problems, but they still make our previous union the scapegoats.) I can say, from my experience it was a lot easier to negotiate a freelance contract under ACTRA. President Lise Lareau, backed into a corner, took the easiest, but least believable, way out. She denied haveing said what the questioner accused her of saying. Her credibility has been brought into serious question. Asked if we had settled just because of hockey, chief negotiator Dan Oldfield answered several times with meaningless words. Pressed by the crowd to “ANSWER THE QUESTION!”, he admitted to have “played the hockey card" to get a settlement.

The CMG represents journalists. Yet, they agreed that the blogs discussing the Lockout would be taken down. I am disappointed in those who have already complied. Journalists stand for free speech. Oddly, it was our union leadership, at the ratification meetings, who were still throwing cheap shots and personal insults at CBC management.

This blog will continue until the CMG recognizes freelancers.

In an earlier posting, I was accused in an anonymous comment of “impugning the integrity” of Freelance Committee President Don Genova. I did not impugn Genova’s integrity. I raised a question (and a fair one). As journalists and citizens, we raise questions about our politicians, corporate leadership, celebrities, athletes and anyone else who holds themselves out for questioning. Why is it wrong, just because I have to pay union dues, to raise questions about the union? It takes two to tangle and neither union or management is always right.

The CMG bragged about the 87% mandate they were given in the strole vote. They never qualified that by mentioning that it was 87% of the 60-something percent of those who voted. In reality, that’s a slim majority.

I urge serious skepticism about the results of the ratification vote.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

CAUTION: Read Thoroughly Before Voting

My previous posting called "Who's the Bad Guy" is no longer valid because I now know the answer. CBC's freelance contracts have sometimes attempted to take away my rights. But, never without the endorsement of the Canadian Media Guild. Now the CMG has dealt a sleazier blow than any experience I have ever had with the corporation.

I'm glad I described my reaction to the new deal as "Cautiously Optimistic" yesterday. Today there is no optimism left, only caution.

CMG President Lise Lareau greeted hundreds of picketers at Toronto's Simcoe Park on Monday morning with jubilant shouts of "We won". Then she took questions and told some big fibs (nice term for lies) when she didn't know the answer. It was all part of the brain-washing spin the union was spreading to ensure a yes vote. Then, they issued highlights of the agreement, in writing, as an "EXTRA" edition of their On the Line newsletter. What was printed supported Lareau's claims and was distributed by the CMG. Any good journalist knows you don't write it unless you know it is fact. You can be held liable if you do.

Almost everything Lareau said about freelancers turned out to be untrue. A professional union President, speaking about an agreement that had not yet been put to paper, should not have made sweeping statements or given definite answers to members' questions.

Lareau was grilled by a couple of freelancers about important issues she had failed to address in her speech. She responded to the large group in the park, without qualifying her answers by admitting that she really didn't know. In doing so she said all classifications of freelancers would get the $1,000 signing bonus. She did the same on retroactivity for freelancers. She said that the unique clause in the opening of the document stating that, for the purposes of this document, the use of the word "employee" excludes freelancers. She also said, in a less sweeping, but confidently convincing manner that all freelancers would be able to retain copyright if they wished. She was wrong on all counts.

On Friday morning all members awoke to an e-mail talking about payment dates. Method of payment for freelancers (most of whom invoice for their work was, of course, not addressed). The shocking news was that freelancers will receive no retroactivity and only a $500 signing bonus. Lise was wrong. And the CMG published and distributed it.

With the exception of the only group of freelancers the CMG has ever made a modest attempt to represent (Freelance Contributors), the "new deal" that "we won" is the status quo.

The CMG put in writing and distributed what freelancers would get and they should be held liable for the difference between that and the truth. Your the President Lise, so accept the fact that "the buck stops here" -- in your office.

If CMG leadership would be so deceitful and verbally careless on one issue, they wouldn't hesitate on others. Read the details of the issues that concern you very carefully before casting your vote.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cautiously Optimistic

I've had a deluge of e-mail since the "agreement in principal" was announced. It seems a lot of (usually anonymous) people want to know what I think of "the deal". Flattering as that is, I'm like everyone else and the answer is "I don't know yet".

I will say that I have some cautious optimism that some small steps have been taken in the right direction. I am basing this on the "highlights" in the CBC On The Line Toronto newsletter and on Lisa Lareau's remarks to the Toronto line on Monday. However, I will reserve my final judgement until I have read the agreement and attended ratification meetings. At least, I think the amount of blogging and other writing from this under-represented group had an impact on the CMG's recognition of us as a force with which to be reckoned.

I've done a lot of research on the law surrounding the treatment and rights of freelancers and on the involvement of freelancers in collective bargaining. I am certain that whatever my final position on this new agreement, there will be much more work to do in this area.

A group of casuals is taking a similar approach and is willing to share what they learn with other casuals, temps, etc. Anyone who would like to be added to their mailing list should e-mail cbccasuals@hotmail.com.

While I may not have been very complimentary to the Canadian Media Guild in some of my postings, I would like to pay my compliments on their management of this lousy Lockout experience. They did a remarkable job in getting a large payroll organized quickly and keeping it running efficiently. Their efforts in getting information out was also commendable.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Stursberg Confirms What We Knew

When VP Richard Stursberg answered questions for locked-out CBC employees in Vancouver last week, he reinforced questions over the CMG's unwillingness to represent all its members. Stursberg's words were, "Your union has not raised the temporary thing. That's not an issue for your union." (see transcript on www.cbcunplugged.com, Wednesday, September 28th). He said, "The only issue they've raised is contracts", adding "on temporaries and casuals, your own union hasn't raised this".

I'm not defending CBC management, especially their long-time abuses of so-called temporary workers. I also have a big problem with their aggressive action in locking us out. However, this site is about pressing our union to be accountable to all their dues-paying members. Mr. Stursberg is right this time. The only reason he did not mention freelancers in what he said, is that the CMG tabled some improved conditions for one classification of freelancers (out of three). So where do they stand on the other two types of freelancers? Where do they stand on casuals and on temporaries? Why are they so hung-up about reducing contract workers, when the larger number of "temporary" people enduring this abuse of their talents are in the other categories?

The invitation extended in my last posting (to e-mail me with concerns about representation of non-permanent staff) drew a strong response. Although it was titled "Calling All Freelancers, Casuals and Temps", it drew e-mails from contract employees too. One thing that was clear is that many workers do not know whether they are freelancers or contract employees. Both types sign a contract. Therefore, some contract employees think they are freelancers. But, a contract employee's entitlements and negotiating power can be quite different. Still, some expressed concern over the degree of representation afforded them by the CMG.

Casuals and the two under-represented classifications of freelancers are the most troubled by the CMG's indifference to their issues. Too many casuals have been shifted from one assignment to another, with short breaks in service, sometimes over quite a few years. Many workers on Freelance Specific Services and Freelance Fixed-Term contracts have done the same work on the same shows for many years.

The CMG Freelance Branch has seen this abuse in the past. Now, 16 months into negotiations, they have still not tabled anything on behalf of these workers.

Management is now pointing out what many CMG members have known all along. For some of us, there is no "good guy" in this.