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.


Blogger Amazing said...

You do not speak for other freelancers

3/11/05 14:40  

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